David Blackburn

The politics of self-defence

The politics of self-defence
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The spin machines are gearing up as we amble towards an election, and strategists’ latest hobby-horse is self-defence. Following the sentencing of Munir Hussain, Alan Johnson admitted feeling “uncomfortable” about Judge Reddihough’s decision. Never one to miss the bus, Chris Grayling went further and faster, suggesting that householders should be immune from prosecution unless they had responded in a “grossly disproportionate” fashion.


It’s rather unfair, but deliciously cutting, of cartoonists to portray Grayling as a plump second hand car salesman posing as James Bond, but Grayling deserves criticism because “grossly disproportionate” is as ill-defined as the “reasonable force” that current legislation describes. Conservative proposals would still leave decisions entirely dependent on judicial discretion: is severely battering an intruder who has held your family at knife point reasonable or disproportionate? Though sympathising with Hussain, his actions were disproportionate: it is the function of a jury to deliver its verdict on a criminal, not a vengeful vigilante, no matter how provoked.

Theoretically awarding householders greater impunity from prosecution with stern sounding descriptive laws is populism at its worst: it does not improve the administration of justice or guarantee the safety of those it is intended to protect.  Only unworkable prescriptions could have the desired effect.