The Castle doctrine: the principle of self-defence in criminal jurisprudence

The Castle doctrine: the principle of self-defence in criminal jurisprudence

For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium; and each man’s home is his safest refuge”. 

The above quote was an excerpt from the book, “The Institutes of the Laws of England”, published in 1628 by Sir Edward Coke a renowned English jurist and this has come to form a solid foundation to the legal principle known as the castle doctrine.


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According to the castle doctrine, any place legally occupied or dwelled by a person is regarded in law as his castle and the dweller has every right to protect such place from trespassers, aggressors or from external invasion and he is permitted to use violence or force in the protection of the castle or his place of abode and If he, unfortunately, kills another person who was invading the home or his place of dwelling, he will be shielded and excused under the castle doctrine and will not be prosecuted for murder.

A man’s castle may include his home or even his vehicle or whichever place the person legally occupies, makes his place of abode, lays his head and feels safe and protected. 

He is therefore permitted and allowed in law as castle principle to in all circumstances, use force (up to and including deadly force to defend himself and his family against an intruder or trespasser and if the intruder sustains grievous bodily harm he will be free from legal prosecution for the consequences of the force he used in the protection of his castle. 

As we may have come to know in criminal jurisprudence that in some instance that involves a person killing his aggressor, the question that is posed before the criminal court is for them to determine; “would it have been possible for you to avoid killing your aggressor”, if the answer is “yes”, you may be prosecuted but in castle doctrine, the court has held in numerous instances that it does not matter if you could have avoided killing your aggressor, you are permitted to go to any length in the defense of your castle (home). 

The castle doctrine as noted therefore serves as an exception to the rule that while defending oneself, reasonable force should be applied against the aggressor and you have it as a duty and it is expected of you to retreat and avoid violence when you can or when it is reasonable to do so but the castle doctrine lessen the duty to retreat when an individual is assaulted within one’s own home and he is permitted to go to any length in defence of his castle; use of deadly force is permitted.

By the reason of this principle, a homeowner is permitted to shoot a thief or armed robber who is trying to break into his home; it does not necessarily matter if the thief is armed of not. A car driver is as well permitted to ram over a car snatcher who is trying to snatch or burgle his car. 

This principle which is now renowned in the criminal justice system around the world is an adaptation from the old  European principle of the inviolability of one’s home. 

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