Mr. Khan: The delay in my rising is the consequence of my just having come to terms with the implications of this draconian and absurd Bill. Will my hon. Friend confirm that in discussing the Oklahoma law, he will talk about the number of people who have been shot dead as a result of it? Will he further confirm that it is referred to locally as the "Make my day" law?
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend is right: the Oklahoma law has nothing to do with the musical of the same name; it has been named after Mr. Clint Eastwood's famous line"Make my day, punk"from the motion picture "Dirty Harry". Under the "Make my day" law, in effect, anyone who dares to enter someone else's property can be shot dead; any force is permitted. It goes further than the Bill before us today, but in the direction that the hon. Member for North Thanet wanted to go with his Bill, had it made progress.
Although we are not debating the Oklahoma Bill today, we can draw some conclusions from its effect on crime rates, particularly those for burglary, and decide whether it achieve its claimed objective. Given that it contains even tougher measures than those in the Bill before us, if it did not work in Oklahoma, one can only assume that this Bill would make no difference whatsoever to the incidence of burglary. Between the Oklahoma law's introduction in 1987 and 2000, there was a 48.5 per cent. fall in burglaries. Very good, but that is almost exactly the same as the decline in burglary in the United States as a whole, where the law was not
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nationwide. So in fact, the law made practically no difference whatsoever to that decline. Even more interestingly, under existing provisions allowing homeowners to defend themselves, UK burglary figures have fallen even further, over a shorter period, than those for Oklahoma or for the US in general.
Mr. Ian Austin: Will my hon. Friend reflect on the appalling situation whereby home owners in the US are being attacked and shot with their own weapons? In some instances, the burglar has broken in and the home owner has produced their gun, only for the burglar to grab it and shoot the home owner. I should also correct my hon. Friend's earlier point: I believe that Clint Eastwood actually said, "Go ahead, punk, make my day."
Mr. Dismore: In fact, I think that the film was "Sudden Impact", rather than "Dirty Harry". However, we have the right actor, even if I named the wrong movie and got the quote wrong; the Oklahoma law is certainly known as the "Make my day" law. Perhaps we can move out of the movie theatre, so that I can draw my introductory remarks to a close and turn to the Bill's detail.
"A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large."
That is a very general definition. For a little more detail, one must go to the bible of criminal law, "Archbold"s Criminal Pleadings, Evidence and Practice". I consulted the 2005 edition, which states that the provisions of section 3
"the defence of self-defence is one which can be and will be readily understood by any jury. It is a straightforward conception. It involves no abstruse legal thought . . . Only common sense is needed for its understanding. It is both good law and good sense that a man who is attacked may defend himself. It is both good law and good sense that he may only do, but may only do, what is reasonably necessary. But everything will depend upon the particular facts and circumstances. Of these a jury can decide".
I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned the common law defence. He will be aware that "Archbold" also suggests that section 3 would not cover all cases of defence of the person, noting that if a person was attacked by someone who was insane, so as not to be responsible in law for his acts, the common law defence would apply and kick in. Is not one of the problems with the Bill, introduced by Her Majesty's official Opposition, that there would be a difference
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between the statutory defence and the common law defence? If the Bill was passed, there would be a differential law that was less generous to an insane person than statutory law.
"If the attack is all over and no sort of peril remains then the employment of force may be by way of revenge or punishment or by way of paying off an old score . . . There may no longer be any link with a necessity of defence."
Dr. Palmer: Does not that illustrate the point I made earlier? Although we have to accept that members of the public feel that the current law has grey areas, the Bill would only move us to a new grey area, with new dangers and a different set of circumstances under which people could be prosecuted. We could make the situation worse.
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend is right. There would still be a grey area because we would still be arguing about what was or was not excessive force, but there would be a further grey area, perhaps tinged with red blood, in that the issues with which we would be dealing would be the consequences of much greater violence.
"If there has been an attack so that defence is reasonably necessary, it will be recognised that a person defending himself cannot weigh to a nicety the exact measure of his defensive action. If the jury thought that in a moment of unexpected anguish a person attacked had only done what he honestly and instinctively thought necessary, that would be the most potent evidence that only reasonable defensive action had been taken."
My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Janet Anderson) makes the point clearly and my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting also makes the point that the burglar in question was not exactly an objective observer of the situation, as he was a victim, having been shot in the buttocks. His view of what may or may not be
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appropriate could be rather different from that of a burglar who has yet to experience a response from a householder.
Mr. Khan: I am not sure whether my hon. Friend has moved off Palmer, but my intervention is about the Palmer point. My hon. Friend quotes Lord Morris and refers implicitly to the subjective and objective test. Does he agree that the test of whether force used in self-defence is reasonable is largely objective? However, the last sentence of the quote from Lord Morris emphasises that there are subjective elements that would depend on a defendant's specific circumstances. That means that the safeguards that we all want are in the law at present, so the Bill is clearly redundant.