1 February 2005
Guidance for householders on the force they can use to tackle intruders was published jointly today by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service. It reaffirms that householders can use reasonable force to defend themselves, their families and homes.
The guidance also reiterates our determination and commitment to be as swift and sympathetic as possible when carrying out whatever investigation of the incident is necessary.
Ken Macdonald QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, said: "The law is on the side of householders. We aim to reassure them that if they act honestly and instinctively, in the heat of the moment, this will be the strongest evidence that they have acted lawfully and in self-defence.
"Prosecutions of householders for tackling intruders are extremely rare – only a very few in the past 15 years. Even where householders have badly injured, or even killed burglars, the CPS has declined to prosecute unless they have used wholly excessive force.
"However, there has been concern and uncertainty over the force that householders are able to use, so we need to explain how we deal with these sensitive cases, and give some guidance on what we mean by reasonable force. CPS lawyers will prioritise these cases to ensure that we make decisions as quickly as possible."
Chris Fox, President of ACPO, said: "We want everyone to clearly understand that they can use force to protect themselves, or others. The force used should be reasonable force. We want everyone to understand that while we have to investigate the circumstances of such events, we will always remember that anyone engaged in a criminal act should expect reasonable force to be used against them by their victim."
+ + + + + + + + + + + + +
Householders and the use of force against intruders
Joint Public Statement from the Crown Prosecution Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers
What is the purpose of this statement?
It is a rare and frightening prospect to be confronted by an intruder in your own home. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Chief Constables are responding to public concern over the support offered by the law and confusion about householders defending themselves. We want a criminal justice system that reaches fair decisions, has the confidence of law-abiding citizens and encourages them actively to support the police and prosecutors in the fight against crime.
Wherever possible you should call the police. The following summarises the position when you are faced with an intruder in your home, and provides a brief overview of how the police and CPS will deal with any such events.
Does the law protect me? What is ‘reasonable force’?
Anyone can use reasonable force to protect themselves or others, or to carry out an arrest or to prevent crime. You are not expected to make fine judgements over the level of force you use in the heat of the moment. So long as you only do what you honestly and instinctively believe is necessary in the heat of the moment, that would be the strongest evidence of you acting lawfully and in selfdefence. This is still the case if you use something to hand as a weapon.
As a general rule, the more extreme the circumstances and the fear felt, the more force you can lawfully use in self-defence.
Do I have to wait to be attacked?
No, not if you are in your own home and in fear for yourself or others. In those circumstances the law does not require you to wait to be attacked before using defensive force yourself.
What if the intruder dies?
If you have acted in reasonable self-defence, as described above, and the intruder dies you will still have acted lawfully. Indeed, there are several such cases where the householder has not been prosecuted. However, if, for example:
- having knocked someone unconscious, you then decided to further hurt or kill them to punish them; or
- you knew of an intended intruder and set a trap to hurt or to kill them rather than involve the police,
you would be acting with very excessive and gratuitous force and could be prosecuted.
What if I chase them as they run off?
This situation is different as you are no longer acting in self-defence and so the same degree of force may not be reasonable. However, you are still allowed to use reasonable force to recover your property and make a citizen’s arrest. You should consider your own safety and, for example, whether the police have been called. A rugby tackle or a single blow would probably be reasonable. Acting out of malice and revenge with the intent of inflicting punishment through injury or death would not.
Will you believe the intruder rather than me?
The police weigh all the facts when investigating an incident. This includes the fact that the intruder caused the situation to arise in the first place. We hope that everyone understands that the police have a duty to investigate incidents involving a death or injury. Things are not always as they seem. On occasions people pretend a burglary has taken place to cover up other crimes such as a fight between drug dealers.
How would the police and CPS handle the investigation and treat me?
In considering these cases Chief Constables and the Director of Public Prosecutions (Head of the CPS) are determined that they must be investigated and reviewed as swiftly and as sympathetically as possible. In some cases, for instance where the facts are very clear, or where less serious injuries are involved, the investigation will be concluded very quickly, without any need for arrest. In more complicated cases, such as where a death or serious injury occurs, more detailed enquiries will be necessary. The police may need to conduct a forensic examination and/or obtain your account of events.
To ensure such cases are dealt with as swiftly and sympathetically as possible, the police and CPS will take special measures namely:
- An experienced investigator will oversee the case; and
- If it goes as far as CPS considering the evidence, the case will be prioritised to ensure a senior lawyer makes a quick decision.
It is a fact that very few householders have ever been prosecuted for actions resulting from the use of force against intruders.
© Association of Chief Police Officers/Crown Prosecution Service, 2005