Justice Minister Ken Clarke says there is “constant doubt” about the right of British subjects to defend themselves from intruders into their homes and that legislation recently proposed in Parliament will make it “much clearer.” In 2007 former Justice Minister Jack Straw said clarification of self defence laws in England was “long overdue.” Since then British subjects have been burgled in their homes and beaten and robbed on the streets with increasing frequency and those with the temerity to fight back against criminal attack have found themselves in more trouble with the law than their assailants. Despite the talk, to date nothing has been done to restore the historic right to self defence in the realm where America’s modern law of self defense had its origin.
British politicians are fond of saying that the law of self defence in Britain is already clear, that British subjects have the right to use reasonable force to repel an attack, and no legislation is required. That is nonsense. The only thing that is clear is that the English common law of self defence, which had been quite clear for centuries and forms the basis of self defense law in America, has been abolished in Britain without any formal statement by either Parliament or the courts.
On the night of August 20, 1999, two burglars – Brendon Fearon, 29, and Fred Barras, 16 – broke into Tony Martin’s farmhouse. It was the 10th time Martin (born 1944) had been burglarized. The Martin farmhouse is in Norfolk, Shire County in Northeast England. There is no police station nearby and in the past the police had taken up to an hour to respond to calls for assistance in that region. Barras had accumulated a lengthy criminal record at his young age with 29 arrests for burglary, robbery and assault.
Martin confronted the two miscreants in the dark with his shotgun. They attempted to flee out a window as Martin fired his shotgun downward towards the floor. Both criminals were hit with buck shot. Fearon made good his escape and later recovered from slight wounds. Barras made it out the window but died of his wounds at the scene.
Martin was charged with murder and convicted by a jury. He was sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was later reduced to manslaughter by an appeals court and his sentence reduced to 5 years. He was released in July, 2003 after serving 3 years. Fearon later instituted a civil suit against Martin which was thrown out when Fearon was shown to have been faking his disability.
In most, if not all, jurisdictions in the United States Martin would not have been charged with any crime at all. Even though the burglars were attempting to flee at the time Martin fired his shotgun, and most firearm trainers would advise letting them go in that case, most U.S. jurisdictions have laws that give a homeowner the benefit of the doubt on the use of force against an intruder into the sanctity of their home. Outside the home a different standard applies, but American law has long followed the original “castle doctrine” which is derived from the ancient dictum that “an Englishman’s home is his castle.” Quietly without so much as a whisper, that doctrine was clearly abolished in England sometime in the last 50 years.
All the talk of the current and former Justice Ministers won’t restore it anytime soon. A change in the mindset of the British public and their elected officials will have to come first. I’m not holding my breath. The former culture and stoic glory of our “mother country” is way too far gone.