Right to stand your ground
THE new home defence bill, to be introduced by the Government in the autumn, settles some controversial questions surrounding the rights of householders to defend themselves, their families and their homes.
It clarifies the existing law rather than changing it, but it is no less significant for that. For several years, ever since the Nally case in Mayo, doubts have prevailed in people's minds about their rights when confronted by intruders. The new legislation should clear this up once and for all.
If the legislation succeeds in its objective, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern is to be congratulated. Most people of common sense will approve, and the Fine Gael spokesman on justice, Alan Shatter, has already endorsed it.
Central to the questions at issue is the right to use lethal force. The Law Reform Commission considered that this should be specifically included in the legislation.
Mr Ahern has rejected that course, but he concedes that on occasion the use of appropriate force could include the use of lethal force. Assessing the unfortunate circumstances in such a case will be a matter for a jury.
The minister has also laid emphasis on the provision that a person confronted by burglars has the right to stand his or her ground and not flee or, in Mr Ahern's word, "retreat". That may or may not have any practical or legal consequences, but certainly it is psychologically sound. It stands by the innocent, not the attacker.