Householders and the use of force against intruders
The Crown Prosecution Service has issued guidance on what you can do if faced with an intruder inside your home, including whether you have to wait to be attacked and what you should do if the intruder dies.
Guidance was issued by the CPS and National Police Chiefs’ Council following public concern over the support offered by the law and confusion about householders defending themselves.
What is reasonable force and will the law protect me?
Anyone can use reasonable force to protect themselves or others, or to carry out an arrest or to prevent crime. You are not expected to make fine judgments over the level of force you use in the heat of the moment.
What amounts to disproportionate force?
The force you use must always be reasonable in the circumstances as you believe them to be. It can be disproportionate if you are acting in extreme circumstances in the heat of the moment and don’t have a chance to think about exactly how much force would be necessary to repel the intruder.
Do I have to wait to be attacked?
No, not if you are in your own home and in fear for yourself or others. In those circumstances the law does not require you to wait to be attacked before using defensive force yourself.
What if the intruder dies?
If you have acted in reasonable self-defence, as described above, and the intruder dies you will still have acted lawfully. Indeed, there are several such cases where the householder has not been prosecuted.
However, if you further hurt or kill someone and were not acting in reasonable self-defence you would be acting with very excessive and gratuitous force and could be prosecuted.
What if I chase them as they run off?
This situation is different as you are no longer acting in self-defence and so the same degree of force may not be reasonable. However, you are still allowed to use reasonable force to recover your property and make a citizen’s arrest.