I had an article in the The Advertiser some time ago when the “Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Act 2011” came into force (on the 13th January 2012). The Act sought to clear up the confusion and uncertainty in the Law regarding a person’s right to defend his home and family against intruders.
Confusion in the Law
The confusion arose from the well-known case involving Padraig Nally, a Mayo farmer, whose remote farmhouse had been repeatedly broken into and robbed and who finally confronted an intruder, whom he shot dead. Mr Nally was charged with the murder and a Mayo jury in the Central Criminal Court in Castlebar found him guilty of manslaughter and he was sentenced to six years imprisonment. On appeal, the Supreme Court set aside the conviction on the basis that the jury had not had an opportunity to consider self-defence as a complete defence and ordered a re-trial which, this time held in Dublin, acquitted Mr Nally.
This prompted the 2011 legislation which provides that a person may use force against an intruder to protect his dwelling if he believes the intruder has entered his property to commit a crime and if the force used by him is such as he believes to be reasonable in the circumstances to protect himself, his property or his family.
It is immaterial whether the person’s belief is justified or not – provided the belief is honestly held by the person using the force. The force used may even be such as to cause death. The home owner need not have had an opportunity to retreat from his dwelling before using force (which was the position in Law before this Act).
First Case under New Act
Earlier this month this Act was used as a defence to a murder charge in circumstances where the accused had struck and killed an intruder he had found rummaging in his mobile home by stabbing him with half a pair of garden shears. The jury acquitted the accused, accepting as true his statement that he feared for his safety and lashed out at the intruder in self-defence with the nearest object to him.
While this acquittal does not give “carte blanche” to home owners to kill burglars it certainly bolsters the right to protect one’s property and family. A wake-up call for intruders!
No liability to compensate injured burglars
It should be noted that Section 5 of the Act provides a very sensible and long overdue provision to the effect that a person defending his dwelling; using such force as is permitted by the Act, will not be liable in damages to compensate the intruder in respect of any injury or loss suffered by that intruder. A rare display of common sense in our legislation!!