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  Justifiable Conduct Bill

This speech was given as part of a debate in the House of Commons on 30 April 2004

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): I am a sponsor of the Bill. The hon. Members for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) and for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) both referred repeatedly to jury trials, but I think they miss the point. People feel that, in many cases, the actions of a householder should not result in their ending up in court, which is what often happens now. In addition, the fear that that might happen is what restrains householders from acting when they ought to do so and ought to be able to do so knowing that they are safe in the eyes the law.

Part of the problem is that the law at present is unclear. I refer to an article from The Daily Telegraph of 2 December 2002 by Mr. Alan Judd. It refers to three cases. In the first, a man was convicted for repeatedly stabbing a burglar who had broken into the flat in which he believed his children were sleeping. In the second, a man who felled a violent schizophrenic who was strangling someone, then kicked him when he tried to get up and resume, was arrested by the police - unlike the schizophrenic - and prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service for kicking. In the third, the hon. Member for Ealing, North may have been referring to this case, a man stabbed to death one intruder and seriously wounded another, and the CPS found his use of force to be reasonable.

Mr. Judd quotes an article in The Sunday Telegraph by Mr. Alasdair Palmer, who wrote that what such cases indicate is that the CPS

"clearly can't decide where the boundary between the reasonable and unreasonable use of force lies, and thus what the law actually is".

Mr. Judd asks:

"How can it be right to prosecute people when the law itself is confused and contradictory? If the lawyers, safe in their offices, can't say what is right, how can we be expected to weigh up the pros and cons during some desperate struggle in the dark? Unclear law is unfair law."

The hon. Member for Broxtowe referred to certainty, and he is right: the Bill does provide a much higher degree of certainty. If he wants to argue about that in more detail, I should have thought that the place to do so is in Committee.

I want to raise one other issue, which involves the impact on rural areas. I represent a very rural constituency of 350 square miles. To give the House some idea of its size, the whole of Greater London has 74 constituencies in 650 square miles. Overnight in my constituency there are only two police vehicles with four police officers on patrol. If someone is apprehended, they have to be taken to Norwich or, worse, to King's Lynn to be locked up as there are no custodial facilities elsewhere. It requires only one call on the services of police officers to go into Norwich and the whole southern sector of my constituency, an area of 270 square miles, which is equivalent to nearly half of Greater London, is completely without police protection.

In Dickleburgh in my constituency, just last Thursday a store was ram raided in the middle of the night. The person who rented the flat above it alerted the police, because he could hear what was going on, but he was told by the police not to go downstairs and intervene in case he came under threat. However, one reason that caused that person not to intervene was fear that if he were to do so, he would be the one to be had up.

We need a shift in the presumption away from the burglar or law-breaker and towards the householder. There should be a strong presumption against prosecuting any occupant who injures an assailant in some way while resisting the intrusion into his or her home. That is essentially the point that my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) is making in the Bill.

I have no doubt, my hon. Friend admitted it, that the Bill could be improved. The place to do that is in Committee, and I very much hope that the House will give the Bill a chance to be considered there in more detail. The hon. Members for Broxtowe and for Ealing, North, who have opposed the Bill, have not said what they would do instead. They have both acknowledged that there is a problem and that members of the public out there.

Both hon. Members have acknowledged that there is a problem, but they have not suggested what they would do to combat it. I believe that it is for the House of Commons to acknowledge the public concern, which is out there, and respond to that by considering the Bill in detail in Committee. That is what the public want.