In Progress
Lesson 1, Topic 77
In Progress

Criminal Damage

Section 1(1) of the Act defines ordinary criminal damage as the destruction or damage of another party’s property, whether intentionally or recklessly, without a lawful excuse.

AR = There are four components to the AR of ordinary criminal damage. These are:

Destruction or damage

While the term ‘destruction’ is straightforward, the definition of ‘damage’ can vary between cases. In both Morphitis v Salmon [1990] and R v Whiteley [1991], the judges held that damage should be interpreted to include an impairment of its “value or usefulness”.

The distinction between the two cases is that the damage in Morphitis (scratched scaffolding) had no impact on the property’s usefulness, in contrast with the damage in Whiteley (maliciously altered data on discs) which caused computer issues.

In Whiteley, the fact that the method of the damage was intangible was irrelevant because the outcome of the damage itself was tangible.

Of property

Property is defined by section 10(1) of the Act. It is wider than the definition of property under s4 Theft Act 1968 as it includes land (but excludes wild plants).

Belonging to another

Section 10(2) defines the concept of “belonging to another”, setting out that it includes custody or control, having a legal interest or a charge on the property, rights under a trust, and corporate ownership.

Without lawful excuse

Section 5 of the Act sets out two available defences. The first of these refers to the belief of an entitlement of consent to the destruction or damage (s5(2)(a)); whereas the second defence refers to the belief that there is an immediate need of protection for the property, and that the method of protection is reasonable in the circumstances (s5(2)(b)).

In contrast, the requirements within defence of s5(2)(b) have been used to exclude protesters as demonstrated in both R v Hunt [1978] and R v Hill [1988]. In both cases, the judges considered that the means used to protect the property failed the objective test of being both immediate and reasonable.

MR = Intention or recklessness and knowledge or belief that the property belongs to another

While the ordinary meaning of intention applies here, the subjective Cunningham test would be applied for recklessness (as Caldwell was later overruled by R v G [2003]).

It is worth noting that section 5 also allows a subjective test for mistaken belief as long as it is “honestly held” as outlined in s5(3). This is demonstrated in the judges’ ruling in R v Denton [1981] where Lord Lane CJ asserts that the defendant was acting in the belief that he received consent from his employer who was entitled to burn his own premises down, regardless of the situation.

Additionally, the judges’ decision in R v Smith [1974] also demonstrates a successful application of the defence of mistaken honest belief where a departing tenant caused damage with the honest belief that he was damaging his own property.

According to section 4 of the Act, ordinary criminal damage carries a maximum custodial sentence of up to 10 years.