I wrote earlier about the pernicious and dishonest campaign by the London Daily Telegraph to scare people into thinking that self-defence against burglars was unlawful. To correct this misinformation the Crown Prosecution Service has issued a statement detailing what the law really says:
Does the law protect me? What is “reasonable force”?
Anyone can use reasonable force to protect themselves or others, or to carry out an arrest or to prevent crime. You are not expected to make fine judgements over the level of force you use in the heat of the moment. So long as you only do what you honestly and instinctively believe is necessary in the heat of the moment, that would be the strongest evidence of you acting lawfully and in self defence. This is still the case if you use something to hand as a weapon.
As a general rule, the more extreme the circumstances and the fear felt, the more force you can lawfully use in self-defence.
Do I have to wait to be attacked?
No, not if you are in your own home and in fear for yourself or others. In those circumstances the law does not require you to wait to be attacked before using defensive force yourself.
What if the intruder dies?
If you have acted in reasonable self-defence, as described above, and the intruder dies you will still have acted lawfully. Indeed, there are several such cases where the householder has not been prosecuted. However, if, for example:
- having knocked someone unconscious, you then decided to further hurt or kill them to punish them; or
- you knew of an intended intruder and set a trap to hurt or to kill them rather than involve the police,
you would be acting with very excessive and gratuitous force and could be prosecuted.
I have listed several cases (and their outcomes) where burglars have been killed here. (Hat tip Agricola.)