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6 - Theft

6 - Theft

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Published by manavmelwani

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Published by: manavmelwani on May 03, 2011
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Theft Act 1968  theft defined in s1 of the ActSome General Comments on the ActThe late1960s was a period of great reform (abortion Act, the Act that decriminalised homosexuality).The Theft Act was part of that reform. Not as controversial as othersbut made far reaching reforms.Before the theft Act the main offence was one of larceny. This goes back to the medieval period and wasan extremely complicated area of law. Criminal reform body looked at it in the 60s and concluded thatthey should simply scrap the whole thing and start again. Thats basically what the theft act aimed to do.So for students, you dont need to know anything about the law before 1968 besides the fact that itexisted and was a mess.
Definition: s1S2-6: Group of 5 sections which give explanatory provisions for the elements of theft.Elements of theft;
 Actus Reus
roperty (s.4)
Belonging to Another (s.5)
Mens Rea
Dishonesty (s.2)Intention to permanently deprive the other of the property (s.6)Maximum penalty for theft is set out in s.7 and is 7 years for stealing. It is of course reserves for theworst cases and a great many thefts arent even likely to result in prison sentences.The tendency has been to interpret each of the sections widely such that theft has become a very broadcrime. This has happened particularly with the element of appropriation.
New concept introduced by the theft act and didnt figure in the old law of larceny which revolvedaround the notion of taking and carrying away property and was concerned very much with the idea of tangible property.In technical terms, the old law was a form of trespass and was an offence against someonesproperty.What the criminal law revision committee said the theft law should do is to make it aninterference against property rights more generally and particularly against rights of ownership. TheCLRC then hit on this notion of appropriation as the word they though would best describe this idea of dishonestly interfering with someone elses property.
S3(1) starts with the proposition; Any assumption by a person of the rights of an owner amounts to anappropriation, and this includes, where he has come by the property (innocently or not) without stealingit, any later assumption of a right to it by keeping or dealing with it as owner.
Were looking at the idea of starting from the rights of the owner. So that leads to the question  whatare the rights of the owner?English law recognises the concept of ownership of property in the form of a bundle of rights overcertain things. The owner can do a number of things with his or her property.e.g. you can use it, sell it, hire it out, damage your own property etc And importantly, if someone elsehas got it, you can take possession back and exclude other people from it.It then follows that if you do any of the things an owner is entitled to do in relation to his or herproperty, and its not your property, then you appropriate the property.A straightforward example would be:
Pitham and Hehl(1977) 65 Cr. App. R. 45
Here a person, M, offered to sell to the 2 defendants furniture belonging to X. X was in prison at the timeand didnt know about it. The defendants agreed to buy some of the furniture and they later took it away.The defendants were charged with handling stolen goods.There was no doubt that they handled the furniture as they took possession and took it away. The questionfor the CA was whether at the time they handled the furniture, it was in fact
stolen goods. That raised thequestion whether the theft was complete at the time they handled the furniture. (was the
stealingcomplete so the furniture acquired the status of goods that had been
stolen)CA said that when M offered to sell the furniture to the defendants, that in itself amounted to anappropriation. Remember, one of the things an owner can do with his property is to sell it and that includesmaking an offer to sell it. M had appropriated that right to sell the property. That right belonged to X and
therefore, the offer to sell itself amounted to an appropriation. Therefore, the goods were stolen goods.The theft was complete because all the other elements were satisfied. (M was dishonest, intended topermanently deprive X, it was clearly property belonging to another) Therefore, the defendants couldhandle stolen goods.That straightforward example shows the width of the
new (as it were then) law of theft as you could stealthe goods even if you never laid a finger on it. He doesnt take the furniture himself. He essentially says Xhas goods in a certain place, would you like to buy it. It is still however an assumption of Xs right andtherefore theft.Another right an owner has is to take possession of his property from someone else to exclude anotherperson from it. It therefore follows that if you take possession forsomeone elses property, youre assumingthe right of the owner to do that. This is of course the most common way in which people steal. Of coursewhen you take possession, its quite clear that youre preventing the owner from anything to do with theproperty.The next question that arises is what happens if you exercise one of the rights of an owner but you dontseem to be intending to exclude the owner completely. Can that still be an appropriation?
rris [1984] AC 320 
This was a case which represented a very common form of dishonesty at a time as it involved labelswitching in a supermarket. (The price used to be stuck on a label on the product. Barcodes werentcommon then)This is what Morris does but he is spotted by a store defective. He is charged with theftand also with obtaining property be deception.Side note: the theft Act 1968 created quite a large number of offences related to property. It containedprovisions dealing with certain types of fraud. One of the types of fraud was obtaining property by theuse of deception. So if youve tricked someone into selling you goods at a fraction of their true value,then by the use of that deception, it constituted a separate offence under s15. What the prosecutionhad in mind was that he had attempted a deception by attempting to make it seem that thesupermarket had labelled the product with the lower price.At trial, he was convicted of theft under s1, but the jury never returned a verdict on the s15 charge.What D tried to argue on appeal was that there was no appropriation of the goods before he paid forthem at the checkout and thus, wasnt assuming all the rights as he was recognising the right of theowner to sell the goods to him.So it raises the question of what happens if you assume one of the rights of the owner (fixing the pricethe good is to be sold at) but you acknowledge the rights in other respects?Courts have tended to give appropriation a fairly wide interpretation as they have with other elementsof theft. To put it colloquially, if faced with a
criminal it is unlikely the courts will quash a conviction andhere, he clearly was dishonest.

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