Law For The Accused

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Theft | False Accounting | Handling Stolen Goods

Theft takes many forms.

The full legal definition comes from the Theft Act 1968 Section 1.

The prosecution have to prove that a person has:-

- Taken the property of another person (bank etc).

- Without the consent of the owner.

- Dishonestly.

Theft cases can vary from the theft from a shop of a tin of salmon to multi-million pound bank thefts.

The principles are the same and prosecution always have to prove that the person acted dishonestly.

This also has a complex legal definition but it is best described as whether a person thought they were acting dishonestly judged by the standard of a reasonable man.

Theft cases can be very complicate and it is always for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person is guilty.

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Theft Act 1968, s.2

(1) A person's appropriation of property belonging to another is not to be regarded as dishonest -

(a) if he appropriates the property in the belief that he has in law the right to deprive the other of it, on behalf of himself or of a third person;

(b) if he appropriates the property in the belief that he would have the other's consent if the other knew of the appropriation and the circumstances of it; or

(c) (except where the property came to him as trustee or personal representative) if he appropriates the property in the belief that the person to whom the property belongs cannot be discovered by taking reasonable steps.

(2) A person's appropriation of property belonging to another may be dishonest notwithstanding that he is willing to pay for the property.

The leading authority on dishonesty, R. v. Ghosh [1982], if the jury conclude that the defendant had, or may have had, one of the beliefs set out in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of section 2(1), then they must as a matter of law answer the first of the two questions in Ghosh in favour of the defendant.

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False Accounting

Theft Act 1968, s.17

Section 17 of the Theft Act says:-

(i) Where a person dishonestly, with a view to gain for himself or another or with intent to cause loss to another:-

a. Destroys, defaces, conceals or falsifies an account or any record or document made or required for accounting purpose; or

b. In furnishing information for any purpose produces or makes use of any account, or any such record or document, which to his knowledge is or may be misleading, false or deceptive in a material particular shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.

(ii) A person who makes or is involved in making an account or document which is false or deceptive or omits particulars from an account or document is treated as falsifying the account or document is treated as falsifying the account or document.

The prosecution have to prove that a person intended to gain or cause a loss and also that they acted dishonestly (see above).

False accounting is a specialist legal subject for fraud lawyers like MJP solicitors.

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Theft Act 1968, s.21

(1) A person is guilty of blackmail if, with a view to gain for himself or another or with intent to cause loss to another, he makes any unwarranted demand with menaces; and for this purpose a demand with menaces is unwarranted unless the person making it does so in the belief -

(a) that he has reasonable grounds for making the demand; and

(b) that the use of the menaces is a proper means of reinforcing the demand.

(2) The nature of the act or omission demanded is immaterial, and it is also immaterial whether the menaces relate to action to be taken by the person making the demand.

(3) A person guilty of blackmail shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

Blackmail is a specialist area for fraud lawyers like MJP solicitors.

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Handling stolen goods

Theft Act 1968, s.22

(1) A person handles stolen goods if (otherwise than in the course of the stealing) knowing or believing them to be stolen goods he dishonestly receives the goods, or dishonestly undertakes or assists in their retention, removal, disposal or realisation by or for the benefit of another person, or if he arranges to do so.

(2) A person guilty of handling stolen goods shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

Handling stolen goods is a very serious offence and carries a greater sentence than theft itself.

You need specialist criminal lawyers like MJP solicitors to represent you if you are charged with an offence like this.

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The demand must be made with menaces. In R. v. Clear[1968] 1 Q.B. 670,52 Cr.App.R. 58, CA, a decision under the former law, Sellers L.J. reviewed the authorities as to the meaning of the word "menaces". Having done so, his Lordship continued:

"Words or conduct which would not intimidate or influence anyone to respond to the demand would not be menaces ... , but threats and conduct of such a nature and extent that the mind of an ordinary person of normal stability and courage might be influenced or made apprehensive so as to accede unwillingly to the demand would be sufficient for a jury's consideration. ... There may be special circumstances unknown to the accused which would make the threats innocuous and unavailing for the accused's demand, but such circumstances would have no bearing on the accused's state of mind and of his intention. If an accused knew that what he threatened would have no effect on the victim it might be different" (at pp. 679-680, 69).

In Thorne v. Motor Trade Association[1937] A.C. 797, HL, Lord Wright also thought that the word "menace" is to be "liberally construed and not as limited to threats of violence but as including threats of any action detrimental to or unpleasant to the person addressed. It may also include a warning that in certain events such action is intended" (at p. 817). Lord Atkin said:

"The ordinary blackmailer normally threatens to do what he has a perfect right to do namely, communicate some compromising conduct to a person whose knowledge is likely to affect the person threatened. Often indeed he has not only the right but also the duty to make the disclosure, as of a felony, to the competent authorities. What he has to justify is not the threat, but the demand of money. The gravamen of the charge is the demand without reasonable or probable cause: and I cannot think that the mere fact that the threat is to do something a person is entitled to do either causes the threat not to be a 'menace' ... or in itself provides a reasonable or probable cause for the demand" (at pp. 806-807).

Their Lordships were concerned with section 29(1) of the Larceny Act 1916, which provided: "Every person who - (1) utters, knowing the contents thereof, any letter or writing demanding of any person with menaces, and without any reasonable or probable cause, any property or valuable thing ... shall be guilty of felony. ... "

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Any demand with menaces is unwarranted unless the defendant is able to bring himself within both paragraphs (a) and (b) of section 21(1). Thus the essential nature of the offence is that the accused demands with menaces when he believes he is not entitled to the thing demanded or when he believes the use of menaces is improper notwithstanding his genuine claim. It appears to follow from this that a claim of right cannot be a defence as such to a charge of blackmail. The fact that dishonesty is not an ingredient of the offence adds weight to this contention. In R. v. Lawrence and Pomroy (57 Cr.App.R. 64), ante, one of the defendants apparently had a genuine belief that the money demanded was lawfully due to him: no point was taken on this, however, and it certainly did not occur to the Court of Appeal that there might be anything in the point. It is true that the Court of Criminal Appeal in R. v. Bernhard (Ilena)[1938] 2 K.B. 264,26 Cr.App.R. 137, held that a claim of right was a good defence to a charge under section 30 of the Larceny Act 1916, one of the old group of offences commonly referred to as "blackmail". However, it is submitted, that Bernhard is not authority for suggesting that a claim of right as such is a defence under section 21 of the Theft Act 1968. This is because the rationale of that decision has now disappeared: under section 30, it had to be proved that the defendant intended to steal the property he demanded. If he had a claim of right, clearly he could not be said to have the requisite intention.

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Belief in consent

A defendant's "belief that he would have the other's consent" must be an honest belief in a true consent, honestly obtained. As to the situation where the other is a company of which the defendant is in total control, see post.

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Belief that property has been abandoned

Property that has been abandoned cannot be stolen . If property had not been abandoned, but the defendant believed that it had, he cannot be convicted of theft, whether his belief was reasonable or unreasonable. He would not be acting dishonestly. The relevance of reasonableness of the belief is as to whether it was actually held: ibid. Where the prosecution case is that it was patently unreasonable for the defendant to have believed the property to have been abandoned, the jury should be specifically reminded that even an unreasonable belief may nevertheless be an honest one and where the sole question for the jury was as to the genuineness of the defendant's belief as to the factual situation, not as to the ordinary person's idea of honesty, the giving of a Ghosh ([1982] direction (ante) was inappropriate and liable to confuse the jury: ibid.

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