Bill will let homeowners use lethal force against intruders
HOUSEHOLDERS will have the right to use "reasonable" force against burglars -- even if this results in death, under new legislation to be introduced by the Government.
The home defence bill will allow a householder to defend the home against an intruder who is intent on committing a crime.
According to Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, this is the first legislative proposal that deals specifically with defence in the home. It recognises the special status of the home and the right of people to defend it.
Mr Ahern stressed that the legislation would not provide carte blanche to householders to kill burglars. But he said reasonable force could, in certain circumstances, include killing the intruder with a licensed firearm or another weapon.
It will be up to a court or a jury to decide whether the use of force was reasonable.
In reaching a decision, the court will examine the circumstances in which the person or persons using the force believed themselves to be at the time.
The new Criminal Justice (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill 2010 states that it is immaterial whether this belief is justified, as long as it is honestly held.
The bill also makes it clear that there is no onus on the householder to retreat from the home if coming under attack.
Mr Ahern said this was a new provision and was different from the requirements of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.
The bill ensures that the person using force cannot be held liable for any injury or damage arising from his or her actions and cannot be sued by the burglar for legitimately defending himself or herself, their family or property.
The minister decided against the introduction of mandatory sentencing for burglary offences as there are already tough penalties on the statute books.
He pointed out that a person convicted of burglary on indictment could be jailed for up to 14 years while conviction for aggravated burglary, where violence was used, could result in life imprisonment.
He said Attorney General Paul Gallagher had also asked the Law Reform Commission to look into the area of mandatory sentencing and believed this was currently being done.
He had no plans to legislate in this area at present, Mr Ahern said, and would await the recommendations from the commission before considering the issues further.
Mr Ahern said the bill would not replace the existing law on self-defence. The provisions of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act still stood, in relation to assault generally, no matter where it occurred.
But this bill recognises the special importance of the home and provided for the use of force in defending it.
The bill is due to come before the Oireachtas early in the autumn session.
However, Fine Gael justice spokesman Alan Shatter said last night it was regrettable that the Government had delayed publication of the bill until after the start of the summer recess; consequently, it had no prospect of becoming law until late autumn.
He said the provisions of the bill were welcome and this fundamental reform of the law had been required for many years.
It was important, he added, that this announcement was not merely a mid-summer public relations exercise by the minister and that the bill was given the priority it deserved in the Dail early in the new session.
Irish Council for Civil Liberties director Mark Kelly said it would closely study the Government's proposals to establish whether they were human rights compliant.
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