In the Media

Villains should be treated as such

PUBLISHED September 9, 2012

Sir Paul Stephenson, until recently Commissioner of the Met, argues eloquently overleaf that the justice system, in its attempts to be fair to those accused of crimes, has tilted too far in favour of criminals. Many wrongdoers escape without punishment as a consequence. Everyone knows it, and it has dented public confidence in law and order.

Chris Grayling, the new Justice Secretary, has the opportunity to ensure that the criminal justice system is unambiguously on the side of the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators. He could start by reforming the law on self-defence. One indication that the system is on the side of the victim - the householder who is burgled in their home, the shopper who is mugged on the street - is the attitude it takes when a victim of crime defends himself against attack. The Sunday Telegraph has long maintained that the law is too uncertain on this issue. The test is whether the force used by the victim was "reasonable". The uncertainty comes in defining what constitutes "reasonable force". We doubt that it is possible to specify in advance what counts as "reasonable" when you are confronted by a masked intruder who may be armed. Prosecutors seem as confused as juries and members of the public. That is why we have backed calls to replace "reasonableness" with a test of whether the force used was "grossly disproportionate".

The Tories promised to take action on this issue before the last election. We hope that Mr Grayling will keep his word. As well as reassuring the public, it will make it clear to burglars that the law will not protect them when they enter other people's houses. And that might just induce some of them to think twice before breaking and entering.