Even burglars have human rights

Cameron has lapsed into cheap populism.

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The Tories have made it clear for some time that they hope to change the law on household defence, but David Cameron's comments today go well beyond existing party policy.

Here's what he told the Politics Show:

The moment a burglar steps over your threshold, and invades your property, with all the threat that gives to you, your family and your livelihood, I think they leave their human rights outside.

The Tory shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, had previously denied that a Tory government would provide householders with a "licence to kill". Yet Cameron's words appear to promise just that.

The principled case against this position is that it would, in theory, allow householders to murder and torture burglars and thus endorse mob rule. The pragmatic case against it is that it could actually increase the danger to the public. As Jenni Russell recently argued in the Sunday Times, burglars who are aware that any break-in could result in their death are far more likely to come armed with guns or knives and be prepared to use them first.

It is simply dishonest for large sections of the right to continue to claim that the existing law does not provide individuals with a decent right to self-defence. The law recognises that householders may, in extremis, use what appears to be excessive force. What is needed is more sensible application of the current provisions (Munir Hussain should have received a suspended sentence), rather than a dangerous new law.

In declaring that burglars "leave their human rights outside", Cameron, a supposedly "liberal Conservative", has adopted the language of the demagogue and the populist. He should retract his comments immediately.

PS: It's good to see that Sally Bercow has not been cowed by those chauvinists who deny her right to political independence. She tweets: "So burglars don't have any human rights? Definitely #brokenbritain."


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George Eaton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.