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Criminal law: Kenneth Clarke states it is lawful to stab a burglar in self defence

Most people in the UK are aware that if they harm an intruder while trying to protect themselves or their homes, there is a chance they could end up being the one in prison. But Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has recently confirmed that householders who use "reasonable force" against burglars will not face criminal charges.

Just last week, a householder was arrested on suspicion of murder after stabbing a burglar in Salford, Greater Manchester.

But on 29 June, Mr Clarke said: "If an old lady finds she has got an 18-year-old burgling her house and she picks up a kitchen knife and sticks it in him, she has not committed a criminal offence and we will make that clear."

However, it would become a criminal offence if a householder then pursued the intruder and attacked or shot them as they made their escape.

Mr Clarke said that the defence of using reasonable force already exists, but the government is simply clarifying the law.

He said: "Given that doubts are expressed, we are going to clarify that. It is quite obvious that people are entitled to use whatever force is necessary to protect themselves and their homes.

"What they are not entitled to do is go running down the road chasing them or shooting them in the back when they are running away or to get their friends together and go and beat them up.

"We all know what we mean when we say a person has an absolute right to defend themselves and their home and reasonable force. Nobody should prosecute and nobody should ever convict anybody who takes these steps. It will be much clearer when we have set it out in this act of Parliament."

A spokesman for David Cameron said that the Prime Minister was "very pleased" with Mr Clarke's comments.

However, it is not yet clear whether the government will use new legislation to clarify the point of law.

The spokesman said: "The method by which we achieve it does not really matter; the important thing is that we achieve that clarification."

Related links:
Read more on this story (The Telegraph)
Read 'Self defence or violent crime?' (FindLaw)
Find local criminal solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)