Theft sentencing in spotlight

The body that issues sentencing guidelines to the courts in England and Wales has published its proposals for the treatment of theft offences.

The Sentencing Council issued draft guidelines on 3 April, covering a wide variety of types of theft – one of the most common offences that courts deal with – including pickpocketing, shop theft, handling stolen goods, car theft, leaving a restaurant or petrol station without paying and stealing by employees or care workers.

The proposals will also introduce a clearer focus on the impact of thefts on victims and an understanding that the value of stolen items to victims is not just financial. The draft takes into account the broader impact of the theft on the victim, including factors not covered in existing guidelines such as emotional distress, fear and loss of confidence caused by the crime.

In the shop theft draft guideline, it emphasises not only loss of business but also stresses that the size or type of business can leave the owner particularly hard hit by thieves.

The draft guidelines recognise the wide variation in theft offences. For example, shop theft ranges from a teenager stealing a chocolate bar from a supermarket to an organised gang stealing designer goods to order and the guideline provides a range of sentencing options that give judges and magistrates the flexibility to sentence appropriately – from a fine to a prison sentence.

It also emphasises the need to consider compensation or confiscation orders, so that the court can order repayment of what was stolen or some financial restitution to the victim. The proposed guidelines have been issued for a consultation that closes on 26 June.

Chairman of the Sentencing Council, Lord Justice Treacy, said: “Theft comes in a great variety of forms, from someone pocketing a packet of razor blades in a shop to an organised gang stealing railway cables. As well as providing effective guidance to help sentencers deal with this wide spectrum of offenders, the guidelines will ensure a clearer focus on the impact of thefts on victims beyond just the financial value of what is stolen from them.”

Palmers’ partner Jeremy Sirrell, who leads the firm’s criminal defence team, said: “Whatever the nature of a theft offence – from the most minor to the most serious – if you are the subject of a criminal investigation or proceedings, expert legal advice is essential.

“At Palmers, we recognise that a criminal conviction can have far-reaching consequences in all aspects of someone’s life.

“For that reason, we work only with clients on a private basis, which enables us to give all the time and attention necessary to best advise and represent those under investigation or charged with offences, with a focus on achieving the best outcome. For more information on our Criminal Defence services, please contact us.”