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Can I use force to defend myself against an intruder?

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Can I use force to defend myself against an intruder?

This article deals with Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 and provides an introduction to the law in relation to self-defence.

Imagine a scenario: It’s a Friday evening and you’re relaxing at home watching TV with the family. You hear a loud bang coming from the back room and you suddenly remember that you forgot to lock the house up before you settled down for the night. You go and investigate, and you’re faced with an intruder. How can you respond?

You may have heard about a 2018 case which concerned a Mr Richard Osborn-Brooks, who stabbed and fatally killed a burglar. The pensioner was arrested on suspicion of murder. However, he was not prosecuted as his actions were deemed to have been lawful.

The basic position is that if an intruder comes into your home, you can use reasonable force to defend your property, to defend yourself, to defend anybody in your home and to prevent crime from occurring.

So, what is classed as “reasonable force?”

In deciding what is classed as “reasonable” a court considers whether the amount of force that was used at the time was necessary and whether this was reasonable based on the facts and circumstances which led to the force being used.

For example, if an intruder ran towards you with a weapon and you responded in kind injuring the intruder, this is more likely to be found to be reasonable then if you repeatedly stabbed and killed an unarmed attacker.

Not all cases are clear cut. What might appear to be a reasonable amount of force in the heat of the moment, might not appear so in the cold light of day. It has long been recognised that this is true and account is taken of that fact within the law. Caselaw dating from the 1970s includes the statement of the law that “it will be recognised that a person defending himself cannot weigh to a nicety the exact measure of his defensive action. If the jury thought that in a moment of unexpected anguish a person attacked had only done what he honestly and instinctively thought necessary that would be the most potent evidence that only reasonable defensive action had been taken”

This was clarified further with s.76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which allows householders to use disproportionate force, as long as it is not “grossly disproportionate” to defend themselves.

This does not mean you can use whatever force you like against an intruder. If you attack an intruder and continue to do so even when they no longer pose a threat, this would not be self-defence. For example, if an intruder left your property and began to flee it would be difficult to argue that you were acting in self-defence if you ran after and attacked the intruder in order to exact revenge .

If you are being investigated or charged with an offence that you carried out in self-defence, it is important that you obtain specialist legal advice as soon as possible. At Stephensons, our criminal defence team have a combined 200 years of experience of successfully representing people facing criminal charges. If you do require assistance, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the department on 0161 696 6188 or complete an online enquiry form.