'Reasonable force' does not mean a licence to injure or kill
Published 17/02/2012 | 05:00
'REASONABLE force' can be used by people seeking to defend themselves in their home. And this longstanding law was strengthened last month when the Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Act 2011 came into force.
The new law allows you to use reasonable force in your home and the area surrounding your home -- and does not oblige you to retreat when you are subject to a threat in your home or its surroundings.
The question of what constitutes the boundaries of your home or reasonable force is one that has vexed juries in the small number of cases that have come before the courts.
Irish society was convulsed seven years ago by the Padraig Nally affair.
This saw Mr Nally tried for murder, found guilty of manslaughter, retried for manslaughter and ultimately acquitted of any crime after a man was beaten 20 times with a stick and shot twice by the Mayo farmer in October 2004.
The case said much about urban/rural and class divides in Ireland -- Mr Nally's intruder John 'Frog' Ward was a Traveller. But it also pushed the boundaries of what constitutes reasonable force.
The trial judge noted that the second and fatal shot was fired after Ward had left Mr Nally's farmyard and was limping down the road in "manifest retreat".
Although judges advise on the law, it is juries that decide on the facts.
And despite the fact that an insurance company paid €175,000 to a burglar who trespassed on Dundalk developer Martin McCaughey's home, a jury acquitted the businessman of assault.
That acquittal is likely to give some comfort to those who fear the consequences of taking on an intruder.
But there is still no such thing as a licence to injure or kill.