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29 June 2011 11:46 AM

Another justice U-turn?

Ken Clarke faces a difficult time in the Commons later when he opens debate on the Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

This is the reformed set of proposals put forward after the Justice Secretary did a massive U-turn responded to concerns about his original plans.

Labour and a few campaign groups have come out strongly over several elements, including cuts to legal aid and a looming £140 million black hole.

But it is hints that plans for a so-called Tony Martin law - to give homeowners a right to defend their property - might be watered down that are likely to provoke anger and accusations of a further U-turn.

Yesterday Mr Clarke told MPs the Government was "clarifying the law" which would still be based on the "undoubted right to use reasonable force". It came after shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan picked him up on the issue and said there was no detail in the bill.

Today the Justice Secretary deployed typically colourful language to set out what he meant. The full words bear repeating:

“We’ll make it quite clear you can hit the burglar with the poker if he’s in the house and you have a perfect defence when you do so," he told BBC News.

"Given the doubts have been expressed we’re going to clarify that. It’s quite obvious that people are entitled to use whatever force is necessary to protect themselves and their homes.

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

Asked whether people could use whatever force is necessary to protect their homes, he said: “Yes, if an old lady finds that she’s got an 18-year-old burglar in 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.”

He added: "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 those steps. It’ll be much clearer as we’ve set it out in this act of Parliament."

It doesn't look like a new law. Let's see whether this is enough to persuade critics who think Ken is too soft on crime. 

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse

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