The first recourse of any householder faced with a burglary should be, where circumstances permit, to the Garda Síochána. They are best placed to deal with violent offenders and to investigate offences.
The Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Act 2011 addresses those unfortunate situations where a householder comes face to face with a burglar and clarifies the law concerning defence of the home. It recognises in a very practical manner the special constitutional status of an individual’s dwelling and makes it clear that a person may use reasonable force to defend themselves in their home. It allows for the use of such force as is reasonable in the circumstances, to protect people in the dwelling from assault, to protect property, to prevent the commission of a crime, or to make a lawful arrest. The Act:
- extends the right to use such reasonable force to the curtilage of the dwelling;
- explicitly provides that a person attacked in the home is not required to retreat; and
- provides that a person who uses such reasonable force cannot be sued by a burglar in respect of any injury, loss or damage arising from it.
Section 2 of the Act sets out the criteria for use of reasonable force by a householder against an intruder entering the dwelling with criminal intent. The householder must believe that the intruder has entered the dwelling to commit a criminal act. The force used against the intruder must only be such as is reasonable in the circumstances as the householder believes them to be, to protect people in the dwelling from assault, to protect property, to prevent the commission of a crime or to make a lawful arrest. Section 2(4) provides that it is a matter for a court or jury to decide whether the householder's belief with regard to the amount of force used was honestly held and provides as follows: It is immaterial whether a belief is justified or not if it is honestly held but in considering whether the person using the force honestly held the belief, the court or jury, as the case may be, shall have regard to the presence or absence of reasonable grounds for so believing and all other relevant circumstances.
The Act achieves the correct balance in providing protections to the householder.