Call for clarity on crime victims defending themselves

Victims of crime should have the right to use force to defend themselves in their home, legal experts told the Government today.

A report to be handed to Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said people should be allowed to protect themselves, their family and their homes from attack.

Professor Finbarr McCauley, Law Reform Commission (LRC), said the review found that self-defence should be renamed legitimate defence.

“The law as it currently stands, I would not say it’s unsatisfactory but it is a bit vague,” the University College Dublin academic said.

The Commission said homeowners facing down burglars would not have to back-off from an attacker before launching a defence.

The Government rejected a Fine Gael bill in September that would have protected householders who attack burglars in their home.

The party’s justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan said: “I believe that the law should clearly entitle a homeowner or occupier to defend themselves and their family.

“I’m not advocating a licence to kill but what I’m doing is promoting a redress of the balance of law.”

The LRC review followed high-profile cases involving attacks on people’s homes.

The most notorious saw elderly Mayo farmer Padraig Nally shoot traveller John ’Frog’ Ward in the back after he entered his farmyard.

Mr Nally had been living in terror for months, intimidated after break-ins at his rural home.

Television magician Keith Barry has also joined growing calls for the Government to toughen rules against burglars, in particular criminals who target pensioners. His grandfather Paddy died days after a break-in at his Waterford home.

The Commission said legitimate defence should be allowed if a victim suffers a lethal attack, the defence is immediate, necessary and proportionate.

Prof McAuley added: “At present, it seems to be the case that a person is entitled to use force that is as reasonable as he or she deems it to be.

“That seemed to us to be too vague.

“We wanted to be very specific as to when you could use force and particularly in the context of the defence of the home.”

The paper will be launched by Minister Ahern today.

Among the 46 recommendations the experts said only gardaí and prison officers should have powers to use lethal force for arrest, serious public disorder, riot or prison escapes if and when it is necessary.

The Commission said the defence should also be offered if someone who suffered a long period of sustained attacks hit back, for example a victim of domestic violence.

The paper also includes a draft Criminal Law (Defences) Bill 2009 to implement these recommendations.

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