Reasonable force is a trick term and one only too often defined with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
The topsy-turvy world of crime and the punishment of victims
Seen from the UAE, where serious crime remains rare, it is easy - as I well recall - to feel smug about casual and often fatal violence in the West. In the past few months, law-abiding citizens of the UK have been obsessed with the question: at what point does the defence of the family, home or property become excessive, rendering them liable to prosecution and possible imprisonment?
We can only speculate as to the conversations going on in the burgling and mugging fraternities. My guess is that the thieving classes are emboldened by the discomfiture of their natural prey. It is not uncommon to hear people say they would stop at nothing to save themselves or loved ones if attacked. Myleene Klass, a television presenter, has told a newspaper she would willingly wield a machete to protect her family.
But Klass knows only too well there are limits to what would be regarded as legitimate self-defence. It seems beyond belief, but she was recently warned by police that she may have acted illegally in waving a knife at intruders in her garden while her partner was away and she was looking after her two-year-old daughter. Hardly a month goes by without some new report of a person dying or suffering serious injury when tackling vicious offenders, or being driven by crime to extreme measures.
A woman who stood in front of her car to stop a thief driving off in it was simply run over. She died. An inquest last year was told that a woman killed herself and her disabled daughter in despair after police ignored or downplayed the terror they felt at the hands of a gang of up to 16 teenagers. In a celebrated case before the London appeal court last month, Munir Hussain, a businessman of Pakistani descent, was freed from a 30-month jail sentence for battering one of three hooded burglars he disturbed on returning home from prayers during Ramadan.
The original sentence was passed because by the time the intruder was attacked, he had fled the house and, as Hussain and his brother chased him and his accomplices down the street, posed no further threat. Indeed, Hussain's brother remains in jail, having won only a reduction in his prison term, from 39 months to two years. The courts justified the severity in his case on the basis that he was not a victim of the burglary but responded to a call for help from his brother.
In a surreal postscript, the burglar, though said to have suffered permanent brain injury, was ruled to be unfit to stand trial for the crimes he committed against the Hussain family. Most people in Britain are familiar with the case. They also know a general election is a few months away. Voters should expect to hear Hussain's name during campaigning as politicians outbid one another with promises to clarify - and, doubtless, extend - the rights of crime victims when it comes to using "reasonable force".