what is theft?

The most common dishonesty offence is theft, and the community has an understanding that theft is stealing property that does not belong to you. The legal definition of theft is that it is the dishonest appropriation of property belonging to another with the intention to permently deprive. The prosecution must prove each of these 5 elements.

what is an appropriation

An appropriation is a picking up or a taking of an item. Property means real property and includes anything that can be stolen from a person. Belonging to another means what it says. The prosecution do not always have to establish the identity of the owner of the property. Rather, it has to establish that the property does not belong to the accused, but to another person.

An intention to permanently deprive obviously means that the accused intends to keep the property taken and to not return it. a borrowing of property does not constitute an intention to permanently deprive.


However, a borrowing where the accused treats the property as their own can amount to an intention to permanently deprive. If you borrow property, and give it to another person, who the does not return it, you can be regarded as treating it as your own to dispose of which can satisfy the element of an intention to permanently deprive.

Returning property to the owner does not always negate the intention to permenantly deprive. A person who steals may then feel guilty or worry that they may be caught. If property is returned to the ownerin those circumstance, the accused is still guilty of theft.

The final and perhaps most important elements is that the police must prove that the accused acted dishonestly.


The definition of ‘dishonesty’ has been the subject of numerous court cases. It is now settled that to determine whether an accused acted dishonestly, the question to be asked is – was the accused lawfully entitled to act in the way they did.

If not then the actions are dishonest.

joy riding

Young persons often yield to the temptation to steal a motor vehicle for a joyride. Many years ago they were able to successfully defend charges of car theft by arguing that they did not have an intention to permenantly deprive the owner of the car – they dumped it when they were finished with it. The law was changed to include the notion that treating property as your own constitutes an intention to permenantly deprive.

Also with regard to a charge of car theft, the law is that the driver as well as passengers are guilty of car theft.

theft by finding

An accused person can be guilty of theft in circumstances where they have found property. If property you find is clearly of value, you are not entitled to it in your pocket or carry it home. You must make efforts to find the owner and if unsuccessful, take it to the police station.

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