§ Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to create a new absolute defence to the crime of common assault upon a person engaged in certain offences; to require the prosecution to obtain the leave of the court before a person is tried with an assault against a person engaged in certain offences; to prevent criminal compensation being awarded in certain circumstances; to require the plaintiff in civil proceedings to obtain the leave of the court before proceeding in certain circumstances; and for connected purposes.
§ The purpose—[Interruption.]
§ Madam Speaker
Mr. Sweeney—just hold on a moment. Would Members leaving please do so quietly? We have business to conduct in the House. Come along. Mr. Sweeney, raise your voice.
§ Mr. Sweeney
The purpose of the Bill is to make it less likely that a person who purports to act in self-defence or in defence of property against a criminal will himself end up being sued or prosecuted for his actions. My Bill is not designed to give victims licence to attack criminals in any way they choose, and it is not intended to create an American-style gun culture. However, it would help to correct the impression that is sometimes given by the media, that the courts and Parliament care more about the welfare of criminals than about their unfortunate victims.
All hon. Members will be aware of the well-publicised cases in which victims have been taken to court for acts of self-defence, only to be acquitted months later by a jury which, having considered the evidence, has concluded that the behaviour complained of was reasonable in the circumstances. In the meantime, the defendant, who has already had to put up with a crime committed against his person or property, has the added worry of court proceedings against him, and the risk of imprisonment in a serious case.
My Bill would address those problems in three ways. First, a victim who committed a common assault—the most trivial type of assault known to the law—would have an absolute defence if he could show that, at the time of the assault, his victim was engaged in committing a criminal offence. For example, if a woman's handbag was being snatched and she hit her assailant across the face, she could not face charges, provided that she did not injure her assailant, even though her action would amount to a technical assault.
Secondly, in the case of more serious assaults by victims of crime, my Bill would provide that no criminal proceedings could be brought against the victim unless the approval of a judge in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court had first been obtained. Similarly, no civil 746 proceedings could be brought against a victim for compensation without the approval of a judge of the appropriate civil court.
Thirdly, my Bill would provide that a victim of crime, even if found guilty of assaulting his criminal attacker, could not have a criminal injuries compensation award made against him. That would not prevent the injured criminal from mounting a civil claim, subject to the success of a preliminary application to a judge for leave to bring the proceedings.
My Bill would not prevent a victim of crime from being sued or prosecuted for going too far in an act of self-defence. However, it would provide a screening device, making it less likely that victims would be prosecuted or sued. The need for a preliminary application by the prosecution, or the plaintiff in civil proceedings, to a judge would make the Crown Prosecution Service or the plaintiff think twice before proceeding. In considering the applications, judges would have to consider the public interest and take into account the desirability of ensuring that, in a finely balanced case, the law should lean in favour of victims rather than villains.
The Government have done much to help the victims of crime. For example, they have improved facilities so that, in all our modern courts, witnesses can be segregated from defendants. Furthermore, the Government have improved the efficiency of the police, increased the number of police officers, and of course, introduced tougher penalties to deal with villains. Nevertheless, the public still remain concerned, as my postbag demonstrates, that the law is biased in favour of the villain and against the victim. That grievance, which is shared throughout the country, will be redressed by my Bill.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Walter Sweeney, Sir Rhodes Boyson, Mr. kin Duncan Smith, Mr. David Evans, Mr. John Greenway, Sir Ivan Lawrence, Mr. Edward Leigh, Sir Peter Lloyd, Mr. James Pawsey, Mr. John Redwood, Sir Trevor Skeet and Mr. Michael Stephen.