There seems to be a lot of confusion when it comes to what a homeowner can legally do if an intruder breaks into their home.
The CPS has released a summary outlining your position if you are ever faced with an intruder in your home.
How far are you allowed to legally go to protect yourself and others? Well let’s take a look and find out…
While the CPS and the police urge all homeowners to make calling the police their first priority, it isn’t always that simple and sometimes it just won’t be an option.
Here are the things that you need to know about staying on the right side of the law when defending yourself or your family if an unwanted trespasser is in your property.
- 1 Does the Law Protect Me? What is Reasonable Force?
- 2 What Amounts to Disproportionate Force?
- 3 Do I Have to Wait to be Attacked?
- 4 What if the Intruder Dies?
- 5 What if I Chase Them When They’re Running Away?
- 6 Will You Believe the Intruder Rather than Me?
- 7 How Would the Police and CPS Handle the Investigation and Treat Me?
Does the Law Protect Me? What is Reasonable Force?
Anyone is allowed to use ‘reasonable force‘ in order to protect themselves or others, or to carry out an arrest or prevent crime. The police do not expect you to make fine judgements over the level of force in the heat of the moment. However, you must do what you honestly believe to be necessary. This is still true even if you use something 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.
What Amounts to Disproportionate Force?
The force used must always be as you see ‘reasonable‘ for the circumstances. If you are defending yourself from an intruder, it may still be seen as reasonable for you to use a degree of force that is subsequently considered to be disproportionate, perhaps if you are acting in extreme circumstances without a chance to think about the force used. It may seem reasonable in the heat of the moment but with hindsight, your actions may seem disproportionate. The law will give you the benefit of the doubt in these circumstances. This does however, only apply if acting in self-defence. It wouldn’t apply if you used disproportionate force to protect property. That would still be seen as unlawful.
The law does not protect you if you use disproportionate force such as knocking an intruder unconscious and then continuing to kick and punch them.
Do I Have to Wait to be Attacked?
If you are in your own home and fear for your safety, you do not have to wait to be attacked.
What if the Intruder Dies?
Even if the intruder dies, you will be seen as acting lawfully providing you have acted in reasonable self-defence.
However, if, for example:
- If you knock an intruder unconscious but continue to punish them, or
- You knew of an intended intruder and set a trap to hurt or to kill them instead of involving the police,
this would be seen as acting with very excessive and gratuitous force and you could be prosecuted.
What if I Chase Them When They’re Running Away?
If you chase an intruder as they are trying to escape, you are no longer acting in self-defence. Any force you use may be seen as not being reasonable. However, you are still allowed to use reasonable force to recover your property and make a citizen’s arrest. A rugby tackle or a single blow would probably be seen as 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 will weigh all the facts when investigating an incident, including the fact that the intruder caused the situation in the first place. 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?
These cases will 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 relevant 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.
Although we do hear of cases where homeowners have been prosecuted for actions resulting from the use of force against intruders, there have actually been very few.