So-called ‘householder cases’ have long been the subject of controversy. The topic is periodically mentioned in the press, usually as a result of a court case hitting the headlines, but where does the law actually stand in this area? A recent decision in the Court of Appeal is of real interest in this respect.
There can be a misconception that householders are not entitled to defend themselves at all but this is not the case, as R v Ray  EWCA Crim 1391 confirms.
Self-defence in householder cases is based upon the provisions set out in s.76 (5A) of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. The Act stipulates that the question is whether the force used by the householder was reasonable in the circumstances.
The Ray case confirms that the emphasis in each case is on its individual facts. The Court stated that ‘….it is particularly important that the jury assess the defendant’s actions by reference to the circumstances in which he found himself and as he believed them to be.’
The case also provides important further clarification as to the level of force that can be used, with the Court saying that householders are entitled to a degree of leeway. Consideration should be given to factors such as the vulnerability of the occupants (especially if there are children in the house), the time of day and importantly, the conduct of the intruder.
Notably, the Court also took the time to express its understanding that ‘the option of retreat is unlikely to arise in many cases’ which again is a factor in assessing whether the force used was reasonable.
So what does this mean for householders in reality? Unhelpful press headlines have helped to create a belief that they cannot do anything, but this is not so. It is just a question of reasonableness.
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