I have been following with some astonishment a story from the UK which has received extensive coverage in the British media, mostly coming from an outraged public critical of the punishment meted out to the two victims of a home invasion. This is today’s BBC report, lightly edited:
A businessman who was jailed for permanently injuring an intruder who attacked him and his family has been freed by the Court of Appeal. Munir Hussain 53, was sentenced to 30 months for grievous bodily harm with intent after he hit Walid Salem with a cricket bat on 3 September 2008. Hussain and his family had been tied up by three intruders at their home in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. His jail sentence is now 12 months suspended for two years. These is also a supervision requirement for the two years. Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, who was sitting with two other judges in London, said he had shown “mercy” to Hussain. His brother, 35-year-old Tokeer Hussain, who was also jailed for causing grievous bodily harm with intent, had his 39-month jail term reduced to two years.
The 2008 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act provides that homeowners who use reasonable force to protect themselves against intruders, and use no more force than is absolutely necessary, should not be prosecuted. However, there are additional factors. The homeowner should be acting instinctively, fear for their own safety or the safety of others, or act in order to make a lawful arrest (or prevent someone who is lawfully detained from escaping). The law does not protect those who set upon a fleeing criminal or who lie in wait to attack them. This would amount to people taking the law into their own hands. The Lord Chief Justice made it clear that the Hussain case was ‘exceptional’, and that the ‘call for mercy’ had to be answered. Hussain and his brother, who were both described as being at the heart of their community, were imprisoned in December after being found guilty at Reading Crown Court. The court heard Hussain and his wife and children returned from their local mosque to find intruders wearing balaclavas in their home. They were tied up but the businessman escaped and enlisted his brother to help chase the offenders down the street, bringing one of them to the ground. The pair left Salem with a permanent brain injury after hitting him with a cricket bat. The force of the blow was so hard that it broke the bat into three pieces. Lord Judge said: “This trial had nothing to do with the right of the householder to defend themselves or their families or their homes. “The burglary was over and the burglars had gone. No one was in any further danger from them.” The decision to free Hussain comes one day after judges rejected his appeal against his conviction.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said people who put themselves in danger to tackle criminals should be celebrated as “heroes”. Courageous members of the public “make our society worthwhile”, he said as part of a widening political debate about the rights of people to use force to defend themselves.