Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Right to self-defence

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The recent case about Munir Hussain who chased and beat a burglar, causing him serious injuries has, apparently, lead to an outcry in newspapers which I tend not to read. This has, in turn, led to the shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, saying that ‘there is “genuine concern” that the law does not provide adequate protection to householders and that an incoming Conservative government would consider strengthening the laws governing how much force householder can use when defending themselves and their property against intruders and burglars’ (BBC Today).

I don’t see how the case of a man who got a cricket bat and a gang of men to bludgeon a man almost to death for trying to break intp theit house should result in a review of the law but, according to the leading politicians in this country it seems to. Catharine Bennett has written about why the whole thing is a disgrace but I thought I would add a criminological angle.

When listening to the interview with Chris Grayling on the Today programme this morning I couldn’t help but think of Garland’s ‘limits of the sovereign state’ thesis in which the state recognises it’s limits in a late-modern society and responsibilises members of the public to look after themselves. This act of populism seems to adhere to this argument incredibly well- the state has realised that it might not be able to deal with the offence of burglary- it can’t have police officer on every street corner ready to catch whichever baddy might be about to strike so it gives the members of the public the right to do this job for them. Except this right already exists and allows for proportionate acts so that people can defend themselves and their property. The judge in the Hussain case decided that his actions were not proportionate- which seems like a fair adjudication to me- although others may disagree.

What Grayling’s proposals signify to me is that the law will now allow disproportionate actions in defending one’s bodies and property. The state seems to not only be recognising its limits here but it is giving individuals citizens more rights to inflict violence than the state which signifies something more serious than Garland’s thesis suggests. It could perhaps be more accurately described as ‘the dispersal of the sovereign state’.

Locke said that political power is the:

right of making laws, with penalties of death and consequently all less penalties for the regulating and preserving of property, and of emplying the force of the community in the execution of such laws, and … all this only for the public good (Locke: 118 my emphasis)

These ideas put forward by the Tory government are in line with Locke’s conception of political power in that they are giving the community the power to enforce the laws made by Government. The big question is, in this case, is bludgeoning a man half to death with a cricket bat ‘for the public good’ or not? If the judge is asked to decide on a case on the ground of ‘public good’ then I might not have any major quarrels but I fear that the wording of any law to come from this scenario may be considerably more individualistic than Locke could have ever imagined.


Garland, D. (1996) ‘The Limits of the Sovereign State Strategies of Crime Control in Contemporary Society’. British Journal of Criminology 36:445-471.

Locke, J. (1962) Two Treatises of Civil Government [1690]. Ed. W.S Carpenter. Originally published 1924.. London: J.M. Dent.


Written by criminologyandstuff

December 21, 2009 at 12:08 pm

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