Feeling safe in your castle?

English: The Scales of Justice Gilded bronze f...

That well-known phrase, “an Englishman’s home is his castle” began in Victorian times, apparently its roots are in the (mostly political) arguments around the advantages/disadvantages of home ownership.

Back in July it was pointed out in Our Kingdom, part of the Open DemocracyNetwork that; our predominant (historical) aspirations to home ownership may finally be coming to an end (see here)? 

Apt when only 20% of people owned a house. However, by the 1940s, the iron railings which marked these castles were being sawn off to fuel the collectivist war effort. …Socialist and liberal politicians moved people out of the private-rented slums, and into modern council and social housing. However, the Thatcherite revolution 1979-1990 unleashed a wave of state-subsidised home ownership…(Read more)

Probably an even greater use of the phrase is the mainstay metaphor in legalese. Its used to expound a point of ‘fact’ in long-running (expensive) courtroom arguments between lawyers. The ones where they’re thrashing out whether or not ‘legal’ access by an individual, was gained to a property owned (or legally occupied) by another.

Access to property (legally) is something which can and does impact upon all manner of people. Police officers and (increasingly) miscellaneous enforcement officers of the state, along with bailiffs appointed by courts or debt recovery agencies, all need to learn about the intricacies of the issue. To work effectively and correctly in this area of enforcement, they have to ensure they operate strictly within legally defined definitions and boundaries of process.

The action anyone takes to protect their home from an ‘illegal’ intruder has always been fraught with danger, both physically and legally.

If a burglar comes into your home, people aren’t sure about what they are allowed to do…Rt.Hon. David Cameron MP

The Conservatives (at their 2012 Annual Conference) have announced ‘better legal protection’ for people protecting their home from burglars but have they actually gone far enough? Many are apparently saying, they may have actually gone to far?

Householders who react with force when confronted by burglars are to get more legal protection, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has said…(bbc.co.uk)

The BBC political editor Nick Robinson quipped that the Conservatives, under Mr Cameron’s leadership, had gone from a party promising to “hug a hoodie” to one that is willing to allow the public to “bash a burglar”.

When that burglar crosses your threshold, invades your home, threatens your family, they give up their rights… Rt.Hon. David Cameron MP

There have been several high-profile case in recent years (see below), and the issue tends to be an emotive subject. 3.2k social media ‘shares’ and the 1400+ comments (at the time of writing) to a BBC article on the subject tend to support that assumption. It’s also a subject that many lawyers have been making a healthy living from for decades.

In 1999, Norfolk farmer Tony Martin shot dead an intruder in his home. He was jailed for life for murder but appealed and had the verdict reduced to manslaughter. In 2008, Buckinghamshire businessman Munir Hussain was jailed for 30 months after chasing and attacking with a cricket bat one of three intruders who had tied up his family.

Between 1990 and 2005 there were just 11 prosecutions for people tackling intruders in any premises, including seven involving homes. But is burglary really the big problem we think it is?

Burglary at 27 year low: Although people sometimes despair about crime, burglary is about a 27-year low right around the country. Burglary is going down…(Bernard Hogan-Howe, Metropolitan Police Commissioner)

Irrespective of the political manipulation of crime statistics (see here), the fear of crime thanks to the media, is often far greater than actual crime, at least in numerical terms. But any crime is still undoubtedly a traumatic experience for the victims.

I can’t help thinking (with my cynical head on) that; much of the Conservative party announcement this week has got more to do with pandering to popularity and the saving of face. The one that used to suggest they’re… Tough on crime and tough on criminals!

In England and Wales, the law already allows an individual to use “reasonable” force to protect themselves or others. Householders can be exempt from prosecution when they act “honestly and instinctively” in the heat of the moment. But opponents of the proposed changes argue they will simply encourage vigilantism.

Perhaps promoting a better understanding of existing laws, as well as promoting more robust application of those laws, right across the Criminal Justice System (CJS), would have been more suitable way forward?

Many legal arguments around those laws have (thankfully) already been exhausted and accepted into our criminal justice system, by way of stated case judgements. What we have now, if the proposals are implemented is; the re-opening of the floodgates for further decades of legal wrangling. That might be good for the lawyers, but not so good for the victims (or the suspected offenders).

Until our CJS in the UK, along with the associated punishment and rehabilitation processes, match up to the social problems we face from the impacts of crime, many of the changes to our laws (or creation of new ones) are mostly superficial and probably superfluous.

As discussed at one of our ‘office hours’ sessions in The Fisherman’s Arms recently; perhaps the right way forward is to ensure that criminals, irrespective of the gravity of their crime, actually hold some genuine fear about the long-term consequences of their actions.

Firstly criminals need to worry about being apprehended, difficult with declining police resources and reduced budgets. Secondly they must also hold some fear about the subsequent punishments (prison and other sanctions) – In both cases I’m convinced many don’t.