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Section 1 of the Theft Act 1968

Section 1 of the Theft Act 1968 provides for the criminal offence of theft. Under Section 1(1) of the Act an individual will be guilty of theft if they dishonestly appropriate property belonging to another with the intention to permanently deprive the other of it.

What elements need to be proven to establish the criminal offence of theft?

The following elements need to be established in order for an individual to be guilty of the criminal offence of theft:

  • Appropriation
  • Of property
  • Property belonging to another
  • Dishonesty
  • Intention to permanently deprive

What actions must the defendant have done to be convicted of the criminal offence of theft?

The following elements have to be physically done by the defendant in order for them to be guilty of the criminal offence of theft:

Appropriation

Section 3 of the Theft Act 1968 is defined as including any assumption of the rights of an owner.

What does it mean to assume the rights of an owner?

An owner has various rights over his property.  This means that if a piece of property has a particular function it would be the right of the owner to use it for that particular function. For example if an individual person owns a car they will have the right to drive that car and prevent anyone else from driving it. If another individual takes the car and drives it this will be seen as appropriation.

For an appropriation to take place do all the rights of the owner have to be assumed?

For an appropriation to take place there is no requirement that all the rights of the owner are assumed. The assumption of one of the rights of the owner is sufficient.

Does appropriation also include later assumption where the property had initially been innocently acquired?

Appropriation also covers later assumption in the situation where the property had initially been acquired innocently.

How does appropriation for theft link up to appropriation for fraud?

The criminal offence of fraud also requires there to be an appropriation meaning that there may be some overlap between the offences. However, for an appropriation to occur for the criminal offence of theft an action by the defendant is required. For example a deception which causes an individual to transfer some money to another will not be an appropriation for theft, although it may be for fraud.

Property has to have been appropriated

Section 4 of the Theft Act states that property will include money all other property, real or personal, including things in action and other intangible property.

What is meant by money?

Money is taken to mean any notes and coins.

What happens if an individual intends to give back the correct amount of money after taking it?

Unless an individual intends to give back the exact same notes and coins which they have taken they will be deemed to have the intention to permanently deprive a person of those particular notes and coins.

What is meant by real property?

Under Section 4 of the Theft Act real property is taken to refer to land and anything fixed to land, this will include both houses and building. However, according to Section 4(2) of the Theft Act land cannot be stolen unless one of the following elements occurs:

  • Where the defendant is a trustee, representative or has authorised power of attorney and deals with the property in breach of trust
  • Where the defendant is not in possession of the property but appropriates anything forming part of the land by severing or causing it to be severed
  • Where the defendant is a tenant and appropriates the whole or part of any fixture

What is meant by personal property?

Personal property is taken to include any property other than land.

What is meant by things in action?

Things in action is taken to mean a personal property right which can be legally enforced. Examples of this are patent rights, debts, rights arising under a trust, a right to overdraw a bank account etc.

What is meant by intangible property?

Intangible property is property which has no physical existence.

Does this apply to confidential information?

Confidential information has been held not to constitute confidential information does not constitute property for the purposes of the Theft Act.

Can I be held liable for theft if I take something which is from the wild?

If an individual picks wild mushrooms, flowers, or foliage growing wild will not be liable for theft unless it is for sale or reward. This is provided for by Section 4 of the Theft Act.

If an individual takes will creatures from land these creatures cannot be stolen unless they have been reduced into possession by or on behalf of another or are in the process of being reduced into possession. This is provided for by Section 4 of the Theft Act.

Property belonging to another

Section 5 of the Theft Act provides that property will be regarded as belonging to any other person having possession or control of it.

Accordingly this means that a person may be liable for theft of something which is considered their own property if it is deemed that this property is in the possession or control of another.

What happens if property is given to another person?

Section 5 of the Theft Act states that in the situation whereby property is given to another person with instructions of how to deal with it in a certain way then the ownership of the property is deemed to remain with the giver.

This means that if the individual deals with it in a certain way which is not in line with the instructions given then this could amount to theft. The main issue to look at here is whether there is a clear obligation to deal with the property in a particular manner.

What happens if an individual is given the property by mistake?

If an individual receives property by mistake and is under an obligation to return the property a failure to restore the property will amount to theft.

What is the maximum sentence an individual can be given for theft?

Section 7 of the Theft Act states that the maximum prison sentence for the offence of theft will be seven years.

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