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Taking the law into your own hands

The question

Farmer Tony Martin is appealing against his murder conviction for shooting an intruder. Is it ever right to take the law into your own hands?

You should only take the law into your own hands if...

1. The situation demands an immediate response.

2. Official law enforcement is not immediately available.

3. There is a real or perceived risk to life or property.

4. There is a manageable risk to self.

5. The response is appropriate to the level of real or perceived risk to life, property or self.

6. The courts will support you.

Of course, if you have time to weigh up all the above, then you would have sent for the police in the first place.

Andrew Fraser, senior engineer, Scotland

Martin should have been convicted of manslaughter. The murder verdict and the way in which it was arrived at is a perfect example of the English justice system 'doing things the right way' but, in the process, losing sight of what is right. This verdict has sent out a clear message to criminals that the legal system holds their rights above those of their victims. May God help the rest of us!

John Rastall

Only if a criminal government, such as the Nazis came to power should you take the law into your own hands.

Dennis Gedge, consulting engineer, Exeter

In a country with a functioning police force there should be no circumstances which justify taking the law into your own hands. When one is in a threatening situation though, the impulse to do so is very powerful. However, the Martin case demonstrates that in such circumstances an over-reaction can quickly occur. It is therefore only justified in extreme circumstances, as a last resort in order to protect life, but not to defend property.

Mike Paul, Stuttgart, Germany

It is not an issue of taking the law into your own hands but about what is considered to be reasonable force to defend your own property. The law must be upheld - butupholding the law is a two-way effort. The police must have enough resources, which is demonstrably lacking in rural areas.

Peter Braithwaite

Reasonable force to protect one's person or property should be permissible. Shooting to kill is not reasonable force unless the intruder is armed and threatening to kill or the victim is faced with overwhelming numbers threatening violence. Mere trespass or forced entry do not justify extreme reaction but should be taken into account in any assessment of compensation should a claim for damages result from injury to the intruder.

Antony Taylor, consultant, St Albans

The tabloid reading masses (and the Tory party) have missed the point. It is not whether Martin was right to use force, but whether heknew his life was under threat before he opened fire.

Simon Winchcombe, researcher

Having lived in an overseas country characterised by its complete lack of law and order, I believe we do not want a society that permits personal judgement in the administration of the law.

Chris Thomas, Lancashire, business development manager

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