A new offence of low level shoplifting is to come into force this week. Section 176 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 amends the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 by inserting a new section 22A which relates to Low-value shoplifting and comes into force on 13th May 2014.
The provisions make shop theft involving property with a value of £200 or less (low-value shoplifting) a summary-only offence, although defendants would still be able to choose to be tried by a judge and jury in the Crown Court. This means that shoplifting cases with a value of £200 or less would potentially be subject to more efficient measures, and could be added to those offences that the police can prosecute directly without the involvement of the CPS. Such cases could no longer be sent to the Crown Court for trial or be committed there for sentence. This is subject to one exception: an adult defendant is to be given the opportunity to elect Crown Court trial, and if the defendant so elects, the offence is no longer summary and will be sent to the Crown Court (new section 22A(2)).
Otherwise, the effect of the new legislation is that offences of low-value shoplifting cannot be sent to the Crown Court for trial or committed there for sentence; they will attract a maximum penalty of 6 months’ custody; and they will be brought within the procedure in section 12 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 that enables defendants in summary cases to be given the opportunity to plead guilty by post.
New section 22A(4) provides that for these purposes the value of the goods is to be determined by the price at which they were offered for sale rather than their value (where the same is different), and also for the value involved in several shoplifting offences to be aggregated where they are charged together. Consequently, where an individual is charged with three counts of shoplifting having allegedly taken £80 worth of goods from three separate shops, the new procedure would not apply in that case as the aggregate sum exceeds the threshold of £200.
This change builds on an ongoing programme to simplify and expand the police-led approach in specified proceedings. As part of wider reform of the criminal justice system (CJS), the police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and HM Courts and Tribunals Service have been working closely together in an attempt to improve the management of high volume cases. The police have always been able to prosecute some low-level offences, such as speeding, themselves where the offender pleads guilty. Last year these powers were extended to new offences including criminal damage under £5,000 and a number of alcohol and public order offences. Critics would suggest that the measures are simply a cost saving exercise to reduce the cost of these cases in non contested cases.