Taking the Law into Your Own Hands

I was fascinated to read England riots: When is it right to turn vigilante? at the BBC website. Excerpts:

Stories are emerging of Londoners forming vigilante groups to protect their homes and businesses, but police have warned this is making matters worse.

…little by little a picture is emerging of Londoners beginning to fight back against the wave of violence – in some cases by taking the law into their own hands.

But when is it right to take the law into your own hands?

But are those who take the law into their own hands to protect shops and homes more of a hindrance than a help?

He urged people not to take the law into their own hands.

I keep remembering Sir Robert Peel’s Nine Principles of Modern Policing, the seventh of which is:

Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

But now, we are told, taking those duties seriously is “taking the law into our own hands.”

Uh, that’s where it’s supposed to be. Principle No. 1 is

The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

You’ll note, they’re not too good at that.

But “vigilantes” are.

I don’t advocate chasing looters and arsonists down and beating ’em to a pulp – that’s not the duty of citizens. Detaining them, however, for retrieval by authorities is. That’s why there is such a thing as the power of citizen’s arrest. This power traces back to “Anglo Saxon law in medieval England.” I guess they’ve “Progressed” themselves right out of it.

Perry de Havilland at Samizdata has more on the subject. Tomorrow’s Quote of the Day comes from that piece.

We’ll see how many people get prosecuted for protecting their own property after the riots finally settle down. After all, according to UK law:

The term ‘offensive weapon’ is defined as: “any article made or adapted for use to causing injury to the person, or intended by the person having it with him for such use”.


The courts have been reluctant to find many weapons as falling within the first limb of the definition and reliance should usually be placed upon the second. On that basis, it must be shown that the defendant intended to use the article for causing injury

However, standing outside your property with a half-dozen friends or family members, all armed with baseball or cricket bats, axe handles or steel pipe in anticipation of rioters pretty much meets the definition of threatening or causing fear. That’s the idea – make ’em sheer off somewhere else out of fear of seeing their own blood.

As I said in “(I)t’s most important that all potential victims be as dangerous as they can”,

Britain today represents a perfect example of the pacifist culture in control, because that culture doesn’t really distinguish between violent and predatory and violent but protectiveit sees only violent. Their worldview is divided between violent and non-violent, or passive. There is an exception, a logical disconnect if you will, that allows for legitimate violence – but only if that violence is committed by sanctioned officials of the State. And even there, there is ambivalence. If violence is committed by an individual there is another dichotomy: If the violence is committed by a predator, it is the fault of society in not meeting that predator’s needs. The predator is the creation of the society, and is not responsible for the violence. He merely needs to be “cured” of his ailment. If violence is committed by a defender, it is a failure of the defender to adhere to the tenets of the pacifist society. It is the defender who is at fault because he has lived by the rules and has chosen to break them, and who must therefore be punished for his transgression.

Thus defending your own property is “vigilantism,” not a duty “incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

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