Law: Dishonesty in the Offence of Theft

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Discuss the meaning and relevance of the ingredient of dishonesty in the offence of theft.

Theft is defined in section 1 of the Theft Act 1968 and states that “a person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it” and has a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment. The actus reus of theft has three elements that need to co-exist, these are “property”, “appropriation” and “belonging to another“. “Dishonesty” is one of two elements required for the mens rea of theft, with the other being an intention to permanently deprive the owner of their property. The Theft Act only provides a partial definition of dishonesty, leaving some discretion to the courts. The statutory definition contained in section 2(1) gives examples stating three situations of what is not dishonest. These are “if the defendant appropriates property in the belief that he has the right to deprive the other of it;” or “if he appropriates the property in belief that he would have the other’s consent if the other knew of the appropriation and circumstances of it;” or “if he appropriates the property in the belief that the person to whom the property belongs cannot be discovered by taking reasonable steps”.

If the facts of a particular case do not fall within any of these examples, the courts have to look to common law to decide whether the defendant has been dishonest. dishonesty is describing the state of mind of the defendant, the jury have to determine the state of mind of the defendant at the time of the appropriation whether he was dishonest or not. The court of appeal laid down a test for dishonesty in R v Ghosh 1982 which is upon the jury to apply. The test is known as the Ghosh test and involves two stages, both subjective and objective. The first stage is where the courts ask the question of whether the defendant had been dishonest by the ordinary standards of reasonable and honest...
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