Assault/defence update

Lord Judge

A recent post concerned the imprisonment of the two Hussein brothers who beat a burglar in response to him being part of a gang that imprisoned Munir Hussain’s family and threatened them with death. Last week Munir was released on appeal, his sentence was reduced to a suspended sentence while his brother’s sentence was dropped to 24 months, meaning he will be released at the end of this year, dependent on good behaviour.

Sense has prevailed, it would seem. In this case there were no grounds for appeal, reports the Guardian, but as the case was heard by the Lord Chief Justice he was able to show clemency by ignoring the sentencing guidelines in section 142 of the 2003 Criminal Justice Act. Lucky fella! In a radio interview some further details of the crime appeared. It seems that the time from when Munir Hussains youngest son escaped and raised the alarm to when the police arrived was a matter of only a few minutes.

The 999 call was logged at something 59 (I missed the exact hour) with the police arriving at 03. Great response from the Police there and they were able to stop the assault on the burglar pretty soon after it started. The interview revealed that the Lord Chief Justice decided that Munir’s involvement in the assault resulted as a reaction to the extreme provocation of the original crime (obviously), rather than simple revenge. From the Times report on the release

Lord Judge, sitting with Mrs Justice Swift and Mr Justice Sweeney, described Munir Hussain’s case as one of “true exceptionality” and announced: “The plain, simple reality is that Munir Hussain was acting under the continuing influence of extreme provocation.

“Involvement in this serious violence can only be understood as a response to the dreadful and terrifying ordeal and the emotional anguish which he had undergone.”

His family had effectively been kidnapped in their own home: “He feared for their lives and the honour of his wife and daughter.”

In the original post I mentioned the potential problem with vigilantism, if Conservative changes to the law were introduced. That is if those using self-defence could do so at a level which is not “grossly disproportionate” to that inflicted on them. These concerns have been echoed by Paul Mendelle, QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association who said

You would have, in effect, sanctioned extrajudicial execution or capital punishment for an offence, burglary, that carries a maximum of 14 years

The “grossly disproportionate” level of force is no less ambiguous than the “reasonable force” level currently in effect. In the same article in the Times Mr Wolkind, QC, the defence barrister for Munir Hussain, is also sceptical

If I manage to tackle a criminal and get him to the ground, I kick him once and that’s reasonable, I kick him twice and that’s understandable, three times, forgivable; four times, debatable; five times, disproportionate; six times, it’s very disproportionate; seven times, extremely disproportionate — in comes the Tory test — eight times, and it’s grossly disproportionate. It is a horrible test. It sounds like state-sponsored revenge. I don’t understand why sentencing should take place in the home. Why can’t it go through the courts? Why can’t the jury, as they always do, decide what is reasonable?

The Law is not perfect, far from it, but it seems to work fairly well. The simple fact is if you beat a burglar to a pulp it’s not self-defence and neither is it reasonable force, except in extreme circumstances. Catching a teenager breaking in and then rendering him brain damaged will likely result in your imprisonment, as would over-responding to a similarly misbehaving teenager throwing a punch at you in the pub.


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