The Sentencing Council last year published new guidelines on how to sentence theft offences. These guidelines will come into force for all offences of theft which appear before the Courts as of the 1st February 2016, regardless of when the offence itself was committed.
In putting together these guidelines the Sentencing Council acknowledged the sheer volume of theft offences that come before the Courts on a daily basis. In 2014 alone more than 91,000 offenders were sentenced for matters of theft.
Jill Gramann, Sentencing Council Member and Magistrate commented:
“’Theft offences are some of the most common crimes that come before the Courts, and these offences vary greatly. They range from someone stealing from shops to fund an addiction to organised gangs stealing designer goods to order, or people diverting electricity to power a cannabis farm.”
The Guidelines themselves offer a much more detailed look at the variety of theft offences that appear before the Courts on a daily basis. Currently the guidelines for sentencing theft offences are fairly generic, with there being only four specific categories of theft offences identified. This has meant that when increasingly common offences, such as theft of a motor vehicle for example, have been dealt with by the Court, Magistrates’ have had to look to guidelines for ‘similar’ offences, rather than for that offence specifically.
Overall sentencing levels are not affected by the Guidelines, and therefore maximum and minimum sentences apply. They do, however, seek to emphasise the importance of considering the impact of a theft on a victim, looking more specifically at factors such as emotional distress, inconvenience and loss of confidence, rather than just upon the financial loss sustained. These are specifically detailed as aggravating features used to determine which category of offence the matter before the Court falls into. If one considers, for example, theft of a mobile phone, the implications on a victim are far more wide-reaching than they would have been even five years ago, and the value of the phone itself is perhaps a secondary concern.
Lord Justice Treacy, Chair of the Sentencing Council commented on this point, saying:
“Judicial thinking has evolved in part because technology has evolved; people carry their whole lives on their smartphones or other devices, their pictures, their personal messages, but also potential sensitive financial date….”
Arguably, however, this is not a new principle, with the current Guidelines commenting under the General Principles that the impact of the offence upon the victim ‘may be significantly greater than the monetary value of the loss’. This is not a notion which is expanded upon much further than this until the introduction of the new Guidelines, which should, of course, be welcomed readily by victims of crime.
Theft Act 1988
The Guidelines also include, for the first time, aggravating factors such as thefts which risk harm to other people, for example where the theft or lead or cables from a building renders part of that building unsafe, and thefts of historic artefacts.
Speaking in favour of the new Guidelines Mark Harrison, National Policing and Crime Advisor for Historic England said:
“Heritage crime comes in many forms. When thieves steal metal from heritage assets, such as listed churches, artefacts from the ground or historic stonework from an ancient castle, they are stealing from all of us and damaging something which is often irreplaceable.”
The Guidelines themselves follow the format of Guidelines introduced more recently for offences such as assaults and possession of drugs with intent to supply, and ask the Courts to determine which category an offence falls into, looking specifically at culpability and harm, before determining the appropriate sentence within the range provided.
The hope is that these new, detailed, Guidelines will ensure a more consistent approach to sentencing across the board, with victim empathy being at the forefront of any sentencing bench’s mind.
Laura Baumanis – Specialist Criminal Defence Lawyer
Written by Laura Baumanis. Laura is one of Olliers’ most experienced Magistrates’ Court advocates and appears in Courts across the country on a daily basis representing the best interests of her clients. Laura has gained and maintained an excellent reputation as an advocate, boasting an extremely impressive acquittal rate in relation to trials as well as securing notable results when dealing with sentences and other applications.