A person steals if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it. (2) A person who steals is guilty of theft; and “thief” shall be construed accordingly.
Theft is defined in section 1 of the theft act 1968:
‘A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving them of it.’
Actus Reus – 1) Appropriate
3) Belonging to another
The more obvious situations of theft involve a physical taking; however, appropriation is much wider than this.
Section 3(1) Theft Act 1968:
‘Any assumption by a person of the rights of an owner amounts to an appropriation and this includes; where he has come by the property (innocently or not) without stealing it, any later assumption of a right to it by keeping or dealing with it as the owner’.
The rights of the owner include:
- Selling the property
- Destroying the property
- Possessing it
- Consuming it
- Using it
- Lending it
- Hiring it out
R V Pitham And Hehl
The defendant had sold furniture belonging to another person. This was held to be an appropriation. The offer to sell was an assumption of the rights of an owner and the appropriation took point at that point. It did not matter whether the furniture was removed from the property or not. Even if the owner was never deprived of the property, the defendant had still appropriated it by assuming the rights of the owner to offer the furniture for sale.
It does not have to be all of the rights, it only has to be one of the rights.
R V Morris
The defendant switched the price labels of 2 items in a supermarket. He then put the lower priced item in his basket; however, he did not go through the checkout. “It is enough for the prosecution to prove the assumption of any rights of the owner of the goods in question.”
Can A Defendant Appropriate An Item When He Has Been Given Them By The Owner?
R V Lawrence
An Italian student came to the UK and got a taxi. He spoke very little English so he showed the driver an address. The journey should have cost 50p but the defendant told him it was expensive. The student offered a £1 note. The defendant said it was not enough so the student opened his wallet and allowed the defendant to take another £6. The defendant argued that he had not appropriated the money as the student consented him to taking it. The court held there was an appropriation in this situation. It did not matter whether there had been consent.
R V Gomez
The defendant was an assistant manager of a shop. He persuaded the manager to sell electrical goods worth over £17,000 to an accomplice and to accept payment by 2 cheques. The cheques were stolen and had no value. The House of Lords held:
- There had been an appropriation
- There does not need to be an element of adverse interference by the defendant
What If There Was No Deception?
Consent is irrelevant to appropriation.
R V Hinks
The defendant was a 38 year old woman who befriended a very naïve man with a low IQ. He was, however, mentally capable of understanding the concept of making a valid gift. Over a period of about 8 months the defendant accompanied the man on numerous occasions to his building society where he would draw money. The total amount was around £60,000 and it was deposited into the defendants account. The defendant argued that if the gift was valid the acceptance if it could not be theft. The House of Lords dismissed the appeal on a majority of 3 to 2. Even though the property was a valid gift, the House of Lords accepted this but considered it to be irrelevant in this situation.
A Later Assumption Of Right
- Section 3(1) of the theft act makes it clear that there can be an appropriation where the defendant acquires property without stealing it, but then decides to keep or deal with the property as the owner.
- The appropriation in this type of situation takes place at the point of ‘keeping’ or ‘dealing’.
This comes from section 4 (1) of the theft act 1968
This states that property is money, and all other property, whether it be real, in action or intangible property.
Money = self-explanatory
Real property= Legal term for buildings and land
In action = things like bank accounts
Intangible property = things that can’t be touched, for example, the McDonald’s “M”.
Belonging To Another
Section 5(1) states property shall be regarded as belonging to any person having possession or control of it, or having any proprietary right or interest in it.