Law of Theft

Topics: Theft, Theft Act 1968, Dishonesty Pages: 14 (3568 words) Published: January 13, 2014

“A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belongings to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it” (section 1 of Theft Act 1968)


Theft is the main non-fraudulent property offence. The most important offence of the Theft Act 1968 is theft itself. According to the sec. 1 (1) of the Theft Act 1968:

“A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belongings to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it’’

There are five elements in s. 1 (1) of Theft Act 1968. All the five elements are necessary in order to convict a person under s.1 (1) of the Theft Act 1968. The five elements are-

01. Property
02. Appropriation
03. Belongings to another
04. Intention to permanently deprive
05. Dishonesty

Among the five elements there are three elements, which are Actus Reus -

01. Property (s. 4 of Theft Act 1968)
02. Appropriation (s. 3 of Theft Act 1968)
03. Belongings to another (s. 5 of Theft Act 1968)

Among the five elements there are two elements, which are Mens Rea

04. Intention to permanently deprive (s. 6 of Theft Act 1968) 05. Dishonesty (s. 2 of Theft Act 1968)

Sentence: The maximum sentence for theft is 7 years imprisonment. (s. 7 of Theft Act 1968)

Actus Reus of Theft


For there to be theft, the defendant must have appropriated ‘property’.

s. 4(1) of Theft Act 1968 defines-

‘Property includes money and all other property, real or personal, including things in action and other intangible property.’
Property includes money referring to coins and banknotes (Davis). Personal property is also straightforward as it covers all movable items. For example- Books, cloths, cars etc. ‘Property’ has a very wide meaning which includes thing in action such as debts and cheques Example of things in action – debt, money in credit card, copyright, credit balance in bank account/ shares, cheques etc. Intangible property means property that does not exist in a physical sense, for example- goodwill of a business.

The followings do not constitute property---

Information: Information cannot be stolen. In Oxford v Moss (1978), a student had seen a copy of an exam paper he has to sit but had not taken the paper itself. The court held that the student was not guilty of theft of the information on the paper because information is not property and cannot therefore be stolen.

Electricity: Electricity is not property. It cannot be stolen according to law: Low v Blease (1975) .

A human corpse / Human body: At common law there is no property in a human corpse and cannot be stolen. But in R v Sharp (1987), the human body will only be treated as property if it has been altered for the medical and scientific examination and thereby acquired financial value. In R v Kelly and Lindsay (1998) , the defendant was aided by the second defendant, a junior technician at the college, he had removed approximately 35 human body parts from the Royal College of Surgeons. They were convicted of theft.

Real property:

s. 4(2) of the Theft Act 1968 states that –

“A person cannot steal land or things forming part or land and served from it
by him or by his directions, except in the following cases, that is to say-

(a) when he is a trustee or personal representative, or is authorized by power of attorney, or as liquidator of a company, or otherwise, to sell or dispose of land belonging to another, and he appropriated the land or any thing forming part of it by dealing with it in breach of the confidence reposed in him: or

(b) when...
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