From attacking burglars to jumping red lights, we are increasingly taking the law into our own hands. But can this be morally justified?by Nigel Warburton / January 27, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
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It’s one thing to break a law, quite another to believe you’ve done the right thing in breaking it. Take millionaire businessman Munir Hussain and his brother Tokeer, who in September 2008 pursued a knife-wielding intruder, Walid Salem, from their home in High Wycombe. They caught him and beat his head with a cricket bat. Salem’s resulting brain damage saw him rendered unfit to be prosecuted for his crime. While recognising their right to proportionate self-defence, the judge imprisoned the Hussains in December 2009, on grounds of excessive violence. “If persons were permitted to take the law into their own hands and inflict their own instant and violent punishment on an apprehended offender rather than letting justice take its course,” he pronounced, “then the rule of law and our system of criminal justice, which are the hallmarks of a civilised society, would collapse.” The Hussains, however, argued they acted under extreme provocation—the intruder and his accomplices tied up and threatened Munir’s family. In January, Munir Hussain’s sentence was suspended on appeal and he was freed.