The question of “having a go” when you confront an intruder on your property has raised its ugly head again, and speaking for myself, I am none the wiser.
This “hot potato” has been sizzling away for the best part of twelve months, with the government encouraging us to be firm but fair, and the law enforcement agencies uncertain, as always, on how best to proceed. The nub of the debate centres round the degree of force that a homeowner can lawfully take, either to defend himself or effect a citizen’s arrest.
The other day, I was offered the chance to “moonlight” for the CPS, acting as their agent in a relatively uncomplicated case of two drunks refusing to leave a nightclub when asked to do so. A confrontation ensued, the police were called, and the two drunks were charged with a public order offence. So far, so good.
When I arrived at court, the solicitor acting for the two drunks informed me that he had negotiated with the ‘reviewing lawyer’ an acceptable plea to a lesser charge, and was ready to proceed to sentence. In my naïvety, I immediately accepted the word of a professional colleague, but the court clerk entered a note of caution. Despite my thirty four years in practice, as I was an agent for the CPS, problems could arise if I had not checked back with the reviewing lawyer, so I was given access to a phone for this purpose, whilst the three justices drank copious cups of coffee and tackled The Times crossword.
It transpired that the reviewing lawyer was on maternity leave, working only two days a week, and couldn’t be disturbed at home. In her absence, nobody at HQ was in a position to make a decision, as nobody knew anything about the case. I was told to consult the CPS lawyer in an adjoining court, as he outranked me, so he had to leave his busy caseload and the sitting justices whilst he read the papers, made several phone calls, and awaited a decision. Eventually, a decision was made to accept the pleas offered and accepted by the absent lawyer, and we duly proceeded to sentence.
Two hours of court time were wasted. I am told that it costs the taxpayer £8000 a day to run a crown court, so work out for yourselves how much it cost to make a relatively simple decision.
Back to burglary and self defence. Unlike the American system, you risk prosecution, conviction and a lengthy prison sentence, as Tony Martin would tell you, if you overstep the mark. And where is that mark? Nobody seems to know, least of all the police and the CPS. Nobody seems to want to make a decision, and sadly, that applies to the new breed of judges as well. If you’ve had a go, odds on your fate will be in the hands of a jury, and there’s no guarantee you’ll leave court a free man.
So my advice, when confronting an intruder, is to barricade yourself into your bedroom, phone the police, tell them you’re a reviewing lawyer for the CPS, and with any luck, the boys in blue will turn up within the hour. But don’t hold your breath!