What must have been intended in order to be convicted of theft

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 intention must be found in order for an individual to be convicted of theft?

For an individual to have been convicted of theft the following requirements in relation to the intention of the individual must be established:


Is there a statutory definition of what is meant by dishonesty?

There is no statutory definition of what is meant by dishonesty. However, Section 2(1) of the Theft Act provides for three instances when a person will not be regarded as dishonest. They are as follows: 

  • If an individual appropriates the property in the belief that he has a legal right to deprive the other of the property, on behalf of himself or of a third person
  • If an individual appropriates the property in the belief that he would have the other person’s consent if the other person knew of the appropriation and the circumstances of it
  • If an individual appropriates the property in the belief that the person to whom the property belongs cannot be discovered by taking reasonable steps

How will these elements be established?

The above three elements will be established using a subjective test, i.e. what the defendants belief actually was. Accordingly there will be no requirement to show that the defendant’s belief is reasonably held.

Who will decide upon whether the defendant has acted dishonesty?

It is the final decision of the jury to decide whether or not the defendant has acted dishonestly.

Can someone be found to be dishonest even if they had a willingness to pay for the object they have appropriated?

Section 2(2) of the Theft Act states that an individual may be regarded as dishonest notwithstanding a willingness to pay.

However, this section is quite unhelpful as it does not state whether a person in these circumstances will be regarded as dishonest. The Section of the Theft Act simply states that a person may be regarded as dishonest.

Accordingly this is a question for the jury to decide.

Intention to permanently deprive

Section 6 (1) of the Theft Act provides that a person will be treated as having the necessary intention to permanently deprive if they treat the property as their own regardless of the rights of the owners.

This will therefore apply in the situations where the defendant intends to return the property to the owner. For example when an individual has stolen a gift voucher for a specific shop and has used that voucher in the same shop in order to purchase goods.

What happens if an individual is simply borrowing the property?

Section 6 (1) of the Theft Act will also cover circumstances when an individual has borrowed the property of another. However, this will only be found in circumstances which make it equivalent to outright taking.

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.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.