Right to Fight Back
By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com

The right of self-defence is something we have believed in as enshrined in our Constitution, and confirmed by our Criminal Justice Administration System. In fact in Delhi, the police department has been encouraging citizens to be conscious of safety requirements to protect themselves and to protect their own including their homes. Each time a brave one exhibits courage to stand up to an intruder, a night burglar or a robber, the police recognize their initiative, presence of mind and courage to confront or help apprehend the anti-social, by rewarding the individual - as an example for others to emulate.

But this 'right of self defence' is currently a matter of major debate in England, whose very people helped us write and codify our present laws. A recent Sunday edition of The Telegraph reports that over ten thousand of its readers have demanded the right to defend their homes, sharing harrowing stories and experiences of their own. 'Why should the victims be reasonable?' …screams a headline, whose readers want their Prime Minister to change the law to give householders the unqualified right to use force against intruders. By implication, one concludes there is a bias in the existing law and/or its application, in favour of the intruder!

In a particular burglary in Okenhampton the householder faced arrest for causing grievous bodily harm after lashing out at an intruding burglar at night and breaking his leg, because the burglar had not actually removed any property except a quantity of banknotes which he, the householder, could not prove were his! Even though the case got thrown out of court on a technicality, the memory of how close he was to a period of incarceration merely for defending what was his own still haunts the house owner.

Another from Essex, a retired detective of the Metropolitan Police, wails in anguish how he was arrested and charged for assault after he caught some teenagers tearing down trees in his garden for a bonfire behind his wooden shed, merely for holding one of the boys by his wrist.

A third explains how the usual niceties of society stand suspended when one is suddenly brought face-to-face with violent individuals with criminal intent. "Why on earth should it be incumbent upon victims of crime to behave reasonably in the face of wholly unreasonable circumstances?" asks another from Bedfordshire. '"The United States has got it right" he states, "if someone comes into a home uninvited, they do so at their peril and not at the homeowner's". He accuses the lawmakers in the UK of being 'so obtuse' as to be practically offering the burglar immunity by putting the onus on the victim.

A widow in her eighties from Kent writes that she is appalled and sickened by the pictures of old ladies who have been burgled, beaten up and in some cases, murdered. Not wanting to invite such fate for herself, she unequivocally declares about keeping a weapon in her bedroom. For yet another in Warwickshire, "It is an absolute disgrace for hard-working folk to suffer the indignation of an arrest for defending their lifetime's possessions while being removed by some half-wit who can't be bothered to find a job". For her the government would have more credibility if it spent as much time tackling crime as it did debating whether some men and women in red coats on horses should pursue a fox!

From Wiltshire writes another that as long ago as the time of the 1689 Bill of Rights, it was recognized that a contract between citizen and state whereby the state would protect the citizen from personal assault at all times, was impossible to honour. That the situation now is no different.

Attempting to sum up public reaction is one from Suffolk who is eager to hear arguments against the proposition. He observes amidst a great deal of name-calling, the defeatist argument that the proposed measures will cause criminals to be more violent - a counsel of despair - and fanciful speculations about householders arming themselves. And he notes the lofty condescension of the 'liberal elite' that the law is perfectly adequate.

Blaming the opposition for fanning the campaign for their own selfish ends, an MP from the ruling party however reasserts two basic principles: That in the public domain people should be expected to go about their business without being arbitrarily attacked by anyone else; and that this stance should not operate within one's home. If people violate the privacy of one's home, then their right to expect protection from the law is negated by their own very act.

Interestingly, it is a long-retired police officer joining the fray, who tells how far a person could go to protect his home. He points out that Common Law has always supported the principle that one could not retreat further than the bounds of one's home. To Victorian legislators the protection of the dwelling and its occupants was paramount, particularly in respect of the nighttime offence of burglary. He clarifies that Section 31 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, made it an offence to set any spring-gun, 'man-trap' or other 'engine', with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm, except when set or placed from sunset to sunrise, in a dwelling house for the protection thereof. He hoped that the current debate would result in some Victorian attitudes being adopted, leaving burglars and the like in no doubt about the serious consequences of their actions.



900words: 29.12.2004: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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