Law encourages vigilantes

Issue 

BY TILLY ELDERFIELD

SYDNEY — After 18 robberies, Sefton newsagent Les Clark armed himself with a pick handle. He declared, "It's a big relief to know you'll be able to defend yourself without breaking the law. I've got a pick handle beneath the counter — I'm ready to go".

Clark's "relief" follows legislation passed by NSW parliament in March which allows shopkeepers to use whatever force they believe necessary to defend themselves against thieves or violent customers, and to use "reasonable force" to protect their property.

The amendment to section 545E of the Crimes Act (1900) means that workers in small businesses, such as shopkeepers, will be able to use weapons to defend themselves and their property without being criminally liable for any injuries inflicted.

This codifies common law relating to self-defence. Civil libertarians say it will encourage vigilante actions, in which people not only defend themselves but go on to inflict harm.

The architect of the legislation, right-wing Shooters Party MP John Tingle, believes the use of weapons might be reasonable at times. The defining terms for weapons are unclear but currently exclude knives or guns. "But we hope that that doesn't mean that people are going to start killing people", Tingle added.

Opponents of the law say that this, however, is exactly what the legislation is likely to achieve.

Few are not horrified by video or witnessed accounts of violent attacks upon shopkeepers, but community standards on law and order issues have been heavily influenced by sensationalist media reporting and, as this legislation makes clear, politicians' kneejerk reactions.

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