Forrest Williams are specialist Blackmail Solicitors. If you are being charged with blackmail, our specialist team of blackmail solicitors can assist you. It is vital that you get help as soon as possible, so call us now on 01623 397200.
Which legislation covers the criminal offence of Blackmail?
Blackmail is covered by Section 21 of the Theft Act 1968.
How does a court decide if a person is guilty of this offence?
Section 21 (1) of the Theft Act 1968 gives the following directions:
“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.”
What is meant by ‘with a view to gain’ or ‘with intent to cause loss’?
Gain and loss are defined in Section 34 of the Theft Act 1968 as relating only to money or other property.
Are demands of a sexual nature covered by the Act?
No. As outlined above, Section 34 of the Act defines gain and loss as specifically relating to money or property.
Does the demand have to be made expressly?
No. A demand could be implied and this may be sufficient evidence of blackmail for the sake of the Act.
What is meant by the term ‘menaces’?
A demand must be accompanied by menaces in order to be classed as blackmail under Section 21 of the Theft Act. The menaces can be express, or implied.
The term ‘menaces’ means that there must be some high degree of coercion in order to force a person to take a certain course of action.
Does this high degree of coercion mean a threat of physical violence?
In many cases blackmail involves the threat of physical violence, but it does not have to.
Menaces may include a threat to expose a secret of some kind.
Does the person making the demand and the person who would carry out the menaces have to be one and the same?
No. This is not a necessary requirement under the Act.
Neither is it a requirement under Section 21 of the Act to prove that the person making the demand is able to carry out the threatened action.
What is meant by an ‘unwarranted’ demand?
Under Section 21 of the Act, a demand with menaces – for the purposes of blackmail – will be classed as unwarranted unless the person making the demand believes the following two factors apply:-
- That they had reasonable grounds for making the demand
- That the use of menaces is a proper means of reinforcing the demand
When making a determination regarding the above two factors, it is the belief held by the person which is important and not whether they are entitled to any money or property demanded.
There is a subjective test for this, based on genuine belief held, as follows. If a person threatens action which they know to be criminal, then the demands they make cannot be deemed to be proper.
What if a blackmail demand has been made by post?
If a demand has been made by post, the demand will take effect from the time that it was posted – i.e. the demand is therefore made before the person being blackmailed actually receives it. Whether or not the victim is aware of the demand is immaterial.
Can blackmail demands take place using other forms of electronic communication?
Yes. Demands made using emails and text messages, for example, are included in the above.
What if the victim is not aware that a demand has been made?
As the victim does not need to be aware of the demand for it to count as having been made, a demand could include an unread email or text message, or a voicemail/answer machine message which has not been listened to.
Can a demand, once made, be withdrawn?
Under Section 21 of the Act, once a demand has been made it remains in existence as a continuous demand until it has been withdrawn.
What sentencing powers do the courts have for those charged with blackmail?
On conviction on indictment, a person found guilty of blackmail would be liable to a maximum custodial sentence of 14 years.