David Cameron told Conservative conference delegates that the Tories will legislate to defend homeowners, who he believes are ignored by the law when defending their property from burglars.
Mr Cameron was speaking in the wake of a string of cases in recent years in which homeowners have been prosecuted after attacking burglars during raids on their property.
He branded burglary a 'violent crime' and pledged to allow victims to use necessary force to protect themselves.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling confirmed that 'grossly disproportionate' force would remain illegal, but that the courts would apply a 'proportionality test' when assessing whether the force used was appropriate in the circumstances.
In 1999, farmer Tony Martin was convicted of murdering an intruder after shooting at two men who had broken into his home. Mr Martin appealed and had his conviction reduced to manslaughter, serving three years in prison. His conviction and sentence prompted claims from many that the law was balanced in favour of criminals.
The law as it stands
At present anyone can use reasonable force to protect their property, carry out an arrest or prevent a crime. Guidelines produced by the Crown Prosecution Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers sets out how the law will view such acts.
At present the test is whether you acted instinctively and honestly, and whether the force you used was reasonable in the circumstances. These tests apply even if you use a weapon. Generally, the more frightening the situation, the more force is justified. The law also states that you do not have to wait to be attacked before resorting to force yourself.
The law does not support reasonable force if the assailant is running away, other than to make an arrest or recover property. In the Tony Martin case one of the crucial points was that the assailants were running away from Mr Martin's house when the fatal shots were fired.
The Tories' proposed new law on tackling burglars
The new law proposed by the Conservatives will adjust the test that a court will apply in cases in which force is used against a burglar. It will still look at reasonable force, but will excuse a property occupant of an offence if the force was reasonable, even if it later appears disproportionate.
Mr Grayling told the conference: "Being confronted by an intruder in your own home is terrifying, and the public should be in no doubt that the law is on their side. That is why I am strengthening the current law."
The proposals have come under fire from lawyers who believe that there is no need to amend the existing law.
"The realities are that there is no need to reform the current laws," David Farrer QC told The Evening Standard.
He added that prosecutions against those defending their property were now extremely rare and limited to those cases in which the homeowner had clearly gone too far.
The application of current law was perhaps best highlighted by the recent case of Andy and Tracey Ferrie, who learned last month that they would not face prosecution by the CPS after firing at intruders in their Leicestershire farm house.
Mr and Mrs Ferrie were woken in the night by the sound of breaking glass, which prompted Mr Ferrie to fire a legally owned shotgun at the four men who had broken into his home, injuring two of them.
Their local MP is Conservative Alan Duncan, who said afterwards: "I'm delighted the CPS has seen sense and has exonerated them. The law has worked and so has the system."
'Burglars have no rights and it is fine to fight back' (The Evening Standard)