Yesterday, in 'It's not Death Wish and you're not Charles Bronson' I looked at the hilariously puffed-out chest announcement from David Cameron that burglars leave their human rights at the door, and that the law should be changed so that 'unreasonable force' when dealing with burglars is replaced with 'grossly disproportionate force', a distinction that I'm sure you'll agree is monumental.
The whole thing is based on poor reporting in the hoo-hah that erupted in the wake of the original sentencing of Munir Hussain, convicted of being part of a bunch of people who beat a violent burglar with implements including a cricket bat until the bat broke into pieces and the man was left with brain damage so severe he couldn't face the courts, and the subsequent reduction of his sentence by an appeal court.
Here's how the Telegraph makes the connection between the two:
Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has criticised the “grossly disproportionate” proposal, saying that the current law for householders accused of attacking intruders: “works very well”.See. The contention that the current law works well juxtaposed with the tale of someone being prosecuted by attacking a burglar. Makes the contention look stupid, huh? The Mail connects the two with rather less subtlety:
Last month, Munir Hussain, a businessman, was freed from prison on appeal after being jailed for using a cricket bat to batter an intruder who had broken into his home and tied his family up, leaving the burglar with brain damage.
The Tory leader’s comments follow public outrage at sentences handed out in cases like that of Munir Hussain, who chased and beat a man who had held his family at knifepoint in their home.Why, it's as if the Cameron's dick-swinging announcement would make a difference in cases like Mr Hussain's. The judge who originally convicted him must clearly have felt that Mr Hussain's self defence used unreasonable force, right?
Wrong. The irony in this current moral panic is that the idea that kicked it off (the judge thought Hussain's use of violence was unreasonable) is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Munir Hussain never claimed to be acting in self-defence, and didn't rely on a diminished responsibility defence in court. He claimed not to have taken part in the beating of the burglar at all.
This means the question the judge and jury had to answer was not 'was the force Hussain used reasonable' or 'was he operating under trauma induced diminished responibility' but 'did he take part in an attack thet left a man brain damaged?' The answer to that was yes. As the Judge originally said in his sentencing remarks:
The prosecution rightly made it plain that there was no allegation against you, Munir Hussain, in respect of the force you used against Salem in defending your own home and family or of the force used by either of you in apprehending Salem.At this point, the judge was constrained by minimum sentencing guidelines set up to appease the same sort of 'string 'em up' buffoons currently swinging their willies about what they'd absolutely, definitely do if a violent maniac broke into their house (bizarrely, they seem to think this isn't 'cower in fear and cry'). He gave the lowest sentence he thought he could - six months less than the absolute minimum. Hey - sometimes situations can be nuanced and what seems to be great tough-talking rules actually sometimes end up with the wrong people on the wrong end. Who knew? I wonder if there's a lesson that can be learned here. A lesson about sweeping statements regarding people forefeiting their human rights, perhaps.
Of course, it is to be noted that it was never suggested by you or on your behalf in the trial that there was any justification for the attack upon Salem. You simply claimed that you were not involved in it.
The jury was sure that you were involved and convicted you of this serious offence of causing grievous bodily harm with intent to cause such harm.
On one level, it might seem that Cameron has played the tabloids cleverly here, and in the short-term he probably has. He's promised nothing that will make any difference and he's getting praised to the rafters in return - and all in the lead up to an election. In the longer-term though, he'll find out about how the tabloids have narratives they need to push next time this issue comes around, which it inevitably will, and the tabloids accuse him of being soft on crime, which they inevitably will regardless of what he actualy does. He might regret giving them this inch right now instead of using his platform to explain what the law is currently and why it's fine as it is. He obviously does think that, or he'd be proposing something more than replacing 'unreasonable' with a synonym.
Empty politics at it's best. A proposal that does nothing practical in response to papers that got things wrong in the first place, and a total waste of everyone's time. I love the news media in this country. I love the politicians that allow them to pull their strings even more.