They were reassured that they will not be prosecuted if they acted “honestly and instinctively” against intruders in the heat of the moment.
In advice issued this week, the Government sought to defuse the controversy over how much force people are entitled to wield in their own homes.
The Tories have called for the law to be strengthened to allow the use of all but “grossly disproportionate” force and polls have discovered the public believes the law is tilted in favour of burglars.
Following a brief review of existing legislation, Mr Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, decided that it already gave law-abiding citizens enough powers but that it needed to be better explained.
The result was this week’s leaflet, which will be distributed to libraries and police stations. It was produced by the Crown Prosecution Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers.
It told householders: “You are not expected to make fine judgments over the level of force you use in the heat of the moment. So long as you only do what you honestly and instinctively believe is necessary in the heat of the moment, that would be the strongest evidence of you acting lawfully and in self-defence.”
It said that the more extreme the circumstances and the more frightened householders were, the more force they could lawfully use. But it warned they could still face the courts for using “excessive and gratuitous force”.
Reinforcing the message, Prime MinisterTony Blair said: “Don’t be in any doubt – you are entitled to defend yourself. And it is only in the most extreme circumstances that anyone is going to get prosecuted for attacking or killing a burglar in their own home.”
Instances in which an individual could be prosecuted would be: “Having knocked someone unconscious, and you then decided to further hurt or kill them to punish them” or if “You knew of an intended intruder and set a trap to hurt or kill them rather than involve the police.”