Two months ago Anna Moore wrote a piece on the "castle doctrine", a legal practice which gives a person the right to defend themselves with potentially deadly force against an attacker on their property. Following last week’s rioting, looting and general destruction of property, Castle laws seem a more and more attractive prospect. This might appear to be a reactionary measure to a rare occurrence but it is a measure worth considering.
At a time where home and small business owners face a real threat of violence towards themselves and their property, and when police resources are increasingly stretched beyond their limits, better defined rights of defending personal property would offer peace of mind as well as a definitive deterrent to would-be criminals. Rather than questioning what constitutes "reasonable force" we would be safe in the knowledge that if we were to ever be put in the terrifying situation of facing an intruder the law would offer us the absolute upper hand.
Particularly pertinent is the argument that castle laws provide stronger deterrents to potential perpetrators of crime. Many commentators attempting to explain the motivations of rioters have argued that those involved looted and destroyed property simply because they could and because they believed they would get away with it. As the rioting rumbled on stories emerged of vigilante groups taking to the streets to protect local homes and businesses and these groups seemed effective at ending misbehaviour in certain areas. Without advocating vigilantism it is clear to see that when the perceived costs of crime were raised the looters were deterred.
Senior Police Officers have expressed concern over the government’s endorsement of property-owners rights fearing that a change in law towards the Castle doctrine could promote vigilantism. However, in my opinion, the opposite is true. Castle laws recognise that individuals are sovereign over their own property and equip them with the resources to, in extreme circumstances, protect this sovereignty to the extent that they wish. If each man is the "king of his castle", and recognised so by the law, the need for vigilante groups or individuals to purposefully take the law into their own hands is removed. In extreme circumstances, such as last weeks riots, it’s easy to see the line blur between individual protection of property and group vigilantism. This isn’t a result of the Castle doctrine, but perhaps because of its absence. Individuals would not be pushed into extralegal activity if the law effectively equipped them to protect what’s theirs.