Theft Solicitors: Changes To The Law of Theft
What is the true value of an item?
How much is your phone worth to you? £100? £200? £500?
You might not be able to put a price on it, I don’t think I could. Not really. I mean I might sell it one day, but only after I had a new one and had transferred all my numbers etc over.
But what about something less tangible. What about the value of a piece of jewellery? Maybe a gold necklace. You might say that the value is based upon the weight of the gold compound used to form the necklace, maybe allowing an increase for the work of the craftsman who forged the item. What you might not add to the ‘value’ is that it is a family heirloom, passed down through 4 generations to the first born daughter – but for the owner this could make it priceless.
On the 6th October 2015 the Sentencing Council published new Guidelines for the courts to consider when deciding the appropriate level of punishment for those convicted of theft. Coming into effect for all offences committed on or after the 1st February 2016 these new guidelines place a clear focus on the impact theft has beyond the purely financial loss. Sentencing will now take into account the emotional distress, the loss of confidence, the level of disruption and inconvenience caused. This could mean that a relatively low monetary value theft could mean a harsher punishment is passed than may previously have been given. A full breakdown is available online.
In effect sentencing guidelines help judges and magistrates decide the appropriate sentence for a criminal offence. Sentencing is a process which takes into account both the culpability of the offender and the level of harm caused by his or her actions. It considers any factors which should suggest a reduction be made, such as assisting the prosecution, or an early guilty plea. The court will then explain their reasons for the sentence and consider any time already served on bail.
It is not something that can easily be explained or summarised, but to give you an idea of how they reach their decisions I will cover the first two stages – Culpability & Harm and then Offence Category.
CULPABILITY – The level of culpability is determined by weighing up all the factors of the case to determine the offender’s role and the extent to which the offending was planned and the sophistication with which it was carried out.
A – High culpability
- A leading role where offending is part of a group activity
- Involvement of others through coercion, intimidation or exploitation
- Breach of a high degree of trust or responsibility
- Sophisticated nature of offence/significant planning
- Theft involving intimidation or the use or threat of force
- Deliberately targeting victim on basis of vulnerability
B – Medium culpability
- A significant role where offending is part of a group activity
- Some degree of planning involved
- Breach of some degree of trust or responsibility
- All other cases where characteristics for categories A or C are not present
C – Lesser culpability
- Performed limited function under direction
- Involved through coercion, intimidation or exploitation
- Little or no planning
- Limited awareness or understanding of offence
HARM – assessed by reference to the financial loss that results from the theft and any significant additional harm suffered by the victim or others – examples of significant additional harm may include but are not limited to:
- Items stolen were of substantial value to the victim – regardless of monetary worth
- High level of inconvenience caused to the victim or others
- Consequential financial harm to victim or others
- Emotional distress
- Fear/loss of confidence caused by the crime
- Risk of or actual injury to persons or damage to property
- Impact of theft on a business
- Damage to heritage assets
- Disruption caused to infrastructure
From these the courts determine which Category the offence should fall within:
Very high value goods stolen (above £100,000) or
High value with significant additional harm to the victim or others
High value goods stolen (£10,000 to £100,000) and no significant additional harm or
Medium value with significant additional harm to the victim or others
Medium value goods stolen (£500 to £10,000) and no significant additional harm or
Low value with significant additional harm to the victim or others
Low value goods stolen (up to £500) and
Little or no significant additional harm to the victim or others
It is at this point that the courts will then consider any aggravating or mitigating factors which would adjust the category in which the offence falls before continuing through the sentencing stages.
What this change to the law means in practical terms is that even apparent minor theft offences could potentially be dealt with harshly, making the need for specialist representation and detailed analysis of the case even more important.
If you are accused of theft, and your case is too important to leave to Legal Aid, call our expert team now on 01623 397200.