Property offences are some of the most complex in the criminal law. Initially, this is surprising – property offences are less serious than offences against the person, so we need be less concerned about careful gradations of liability. However, there are two particular reasons why this area has caused so many problems.The first is that the criminal law on property offences has to interact with the civil law on ownership of property (for example, the law of contract). Many commentators believe that it would be unsatisfactory if the civil law were to say A has validly transferred this property to B, but the criminal law were to say B has stolen this property from A. The problem is that different principles underlie these different areas of the law. Expediency and certainty carry greater weight in civil law than in criminal law. Yet, an interaction between the two areas of the law is inevitable. The property offences forbid the harming or taking of property ‘belonging to another’, and it is largely the complex civil law which determines whether property belongs to another.
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