This week’s Conservative Party conference in Birmingham was dominated by announcements on law and order issues, including a change in the law that allows homeowners to use “disproportionate force” when confronting burglars.
At the beginning of the week Chris Grayling, the new Justice Secretary, grabbed the headlines with his plans to introduce legislation which will give greater rights to home owners who are confronted by burglars in their own home. This proposal was widely reported to be in the interests of the general public, and to those who might over-react to encountering a burglar, after a string of high-profile cases have seen innocent people being arrested and setenced to jail for confronting criminals who were trying to break into their property. Speaking of the legislation, Mr Grayling added: “You need to look at it that way round because it’s very much about the juxtaposition of the heat of the moment and if you act in a disproportionate way in the heat of the moment, the law will be on your side.”
The Justice Secretary also highlighted new sentencing powers for those convicted of violent and sexual offences and set out his commitment to tougher community penalties. In her conference speech, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, outlined plans for victims to choose the punishment of those receiving an “out of court community punishment” for acts of anti social behaviour.
Whilst we await the precise details of exactly what changes are planned and what this will mean for the general public, it is clear that the main party of Government are intent upon a much more hard-line approach towards crime. However, I sincerely hope that this does not result in hasty and ill thought out legislation that could effectively do more damage than good.
Both the law and guidance on self defence have recently been updated and it is far from clear that further reform is required in this area. As for the notion of victims determining sentence, we need to ensure that we do not descend into a society where revenge becomes the foundation upon which the criminal justice system is built.