R v Morris; Anderton v Burnside [1984]

R v Morris; Anderton v Burnside [1984] UKHL 1, heard jointly in the House of Lords in 1984, were crucial appeals that addressed the concept of appropriation under the Theft Act 1968. The central question revolved around the extent of actions that could be deemed criminally appropriative in cases of theft.

R v Morris involved Morris altering price labels on supermarket goods to pay a lower price, while Anderton v Burnside saw Burnside switching price labels on a joint of pork in a self-service store. Both cases raised a common legal question regarding the point at which a dishonest appropriation occurs under Section 1 of the Theft Act 1968.

The key question in both cases was whether the act of substituting a price label on a product in a self-service store, with the intent to pay the lower price at the checkout, constituted a dishonest appropriation. Additionally, the cases sought clarity on when, during this process, the appropriation could be deemed to have taken place.

The Law Lords, led by Lord Roskill, established a clear precedent in their judgment. They articulated that, in English theft law, an appropriation occurs when the defendant unmistakably assumes a right of the owner, and the prosecution must prove this assumption beyond a reasonable doubt.

Lord Roskill rejected the defence's argument, emphasising that the wording of the Theft Act, particularly the phrase "any later assumption of a right" in Subsection (1) and the corresponding words in Subsection (2), contradicted the defence's position. He underscored that the prosecution only needed to prove the defendant's assumption of any of the owner's rights.

The judgments in R v Morris and Anderton v Burnside clarified that altering price labels in self-service stores, with the intention of paying a lower price, constitutes a dishonest appropriation. The focus shifted to the defendant's clear assumption of the owner's rights, providing a framework for prosecuting such theft cases.

These conjoined appeal decisions marked a significant development in English theft law, offering a precise understanding of when an appropriation occurs. The judgments emphasised the importance of proving the defendant's assumption of the owner's rights, bringing clarity to the interpretation of Section 1 of the Theft Act 1968 in cases involving price label alterations in self-service stores.
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