Whose home is it anyway?

Saturday 12 October, 15:1516:45, The Old Joint Stock, 4 Temple Row West, Birmingham, B2 5NYUK satellites


This debate is part of a day of debates organised by Birmingham Salon. For further information and tickets, visit the Birmingham Salon event page.

‘The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it. The rain may enter. The storms may enter. But the king of England may not enter. All his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.’ – Pitt the Elder

One of the foundational principles of liberal democracies – that a strict line be maintained between the private and the public – often revolves around the sanctity of the home.

But the history is complicated. In the seventeenth century, John Locke applied the principle of domestic privacy as a defence of private property in general – even when such property was more social than personal in character. Two hundred years later, critics of universal suffrage argued that only householders could be trusted with the vote. The feminist movement of the 1980s argued that the concept of the sanctity of a man’s home was the site of women’s oppression – and that privacy in the home allowed for abuse and inequality to go unchallenged. This prompted moves such as Labour’s Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act of 2004, which gave to the authorities the power to enter homes in connection with unpaid fines.

Today, the distinction between public and private is blurry. From debates around the right to smoke in prison cells and psychiatric wards to the erosion of tenant’s rights, some argue the idea of homelife as a private, autonomous space has all but gone. But when cohabiting adults and children are involved, is state intervention into private life justifiable? The furore over Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds’s domestic dispute earlier this year posed the question: how free should we be to interfere in the private affairs of our neighbours? Is the old saying ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’ still worth defending – or can we no longer expect our home life to be private?