Minister plays down quick change to self-defence law

Image caption,
Mr Herbert said the government backed a change to the law

There will be no swift law change to give people greater rights to defend themselves against burglars, Justice Minister Nick Herbert has suggested.

He told the BBC there was a "problem" with the existing law but ministers would consult officials first.

The Conservatives' manifesto commitment to give people more legal protection was included in the coalition deal.

Prosecutions are rare - the best known is the case of Tony Martin, jailed for shooting an intruder dead in 1999.

'Responsible citizen'

The Conservatives had proposed amending the law in England and Wales before the general election.

A commitment to "give people greater legal protection to prevent crime and apprehend criminals" and "ensure that people have the protection that they need when they defend themselves against intruders" was included in their coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Herbert told BBC One's Politics Show: "We want to make clear that the responsible citizen, acting to protect other people, to protect himself, will have the law on his side.

"We have taken the view that there is a problem with the framing of the law, that's why we said we want to look at it and if necessary we certainly will be ready to change it."

He said the government would "be consulting with officials about it and consulting more widely about it and that is the right thing to do".

But asked if it would be done sooner or later, he replied: "I don't think I can promise we are going to see it sooner but what we have said is that we think there is a need to change the law in this area.

"If a burglar comes into your house he crosses a line and the law should be on the side of the responsible citizen, particularly in your own home but also out on the streets so that if people can take action they should know that they're not going to be the ones that find themselves in the dock."

Head of the Association of Chief Police Officers Sir Hugh Orde told the same programme: "I think the issue here is around proportionality.

"The citizen has a right to defend themselves, their defence has to be proportionate to the risk. We'll wait and see what government comes up with before we comment.

"But I do think already there are protections for the citizen, a citizen has to believe they are under threat and then they can defend themselves and they have an absolute right to use force."

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