Criminal Damage under Criminal Damage Act 1971

Criminal damage refers to the intentional or reckless act of destroying or damaging property that belongs to another person without lawful excuse. The Criminal Damage Act 1971 sets out the legal framework of this offence, including its definition and sentencing, in England and Wales.

Section 1(1): Destroying or Damaging Property
A person who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another intending to destroy or damage any such property or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged shall be guilty of an offence.

Section 1(2): Intending to Endanger Life
A person who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property, whether belonging to himself or another, intending to destroy or damage any property or being reckless as to whether any property would be destroyed or damaged, and intending by the destruction or damage to endanger the life of another or being reckless as to whether the life of another would be thereby endangered, shall be guilty of an offence.

Section 1(3): Destroying or Damaging Property by Fire
An offence committed under this section by destroying or damaging property by fire shall be charged as arson.

Section 2: Threats to Destroy or Damage Property
A person who without lawful excuse makes to another a threat, intending that that other would fear it would be carried out, to destroy or damage any property belonging to that other or a third person, or to destroy or damage his own property in a way which he knows is likely to endanger the life of that other or third person, shall be guilty of an offence.

Section 3: Possessing Anything with Intent to Destroy or Damage Property
A person who has anything in his custody or under his control intending without lawful excuse to use it or cause or permit another to use it to destroy or damage any property belonging to some other person, or to destroy or damage his own or the user’s property in a way which he knows is likely to endanger the life of some other person, shall be guilty of an offence.

Section 4(2): Punishment of Offences
A person guilty of any other offence under this Act shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.

Section 4(1): Imprisonment for Life
A person guilty of arson under Section 1 above or of an offence under Section 1(2) above (whether arson or not) shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for life.

Section 5(2)(a): Lawful Excuse (Consent)
If at the time of the act or acts alleged to constitute the offence he believed that the person or persons whom he believed to be entitled to consent to the destruction of or damage to the property in question had so consented, or would have so consented to it if he or they had known of the destruction or damage and its circumstances

Section 5(2)(b): Lawful Excuse (Protection of Property)
if he destroyed or damaged or threatened to destroy or damage the property in question or, in the case of a charge of an offence under section 3 above, intended to use or cause or permit the use of something to destroy or damage it, in order to protect property belonging to himself or another or a right or interest in property which was or which he believed to be vested in himself or another, and at the time of the act or acts alleged to constitute the offence he believed that the property, right or interest was in immediate need of protection; and that the means of protection adopted or proposed to be adopted were or would be reasonable having regard to all the circumstances.

To be charged with criminal damage, the prosecution must prove the following elements:

Damage: There must be actual damage to property. Damage includes both permanent and temporary impairment of the property's value, usefulness, or safety.

Property: The damaged item must be property that belongs to another person or a group of persons. Property can include physical objects, land, and even virtual property. It is also possible for a person to be charge with criminal damage if he damages his own property with the intent to endanger life.

Without lawful excuse: The accused must not have a lawful reason or excuse for causing the damage. Lawful excuses may include acting in self-defence, protecting someone else's property, or having the owner's consent.

Intent or recklessness: The accused must have either intended to cause damage to the property or been aware that their actions could result in damage and proceeded regardless. Recklessness refers to consciously taking an unjustifiable risk in causing damage.

The penalties for criminal damage vary depending on the severity of the offence. If the value of the damage caused is below the threshold of £5,000, it is only triable summarily with a maximum penalty of Level 4 fine and/or 3 months’ imprisonment. If the value exceeds £5,000 or the damage is coupled with a racially or religiously aggravated factor, it is triable either way with a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. If the damage is caused by fire or coupled with the intent to endanger life, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.
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