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(1985) JELR 80167 (CA)

Court of Appeal  •  4 Feb 1985  •  United Kingdom



EASTHAM J(Reading the judgment of the Court)

On 19th June, 1984, after a three-day trial in the Crown Court at Inner London Sessions, the appellant was convicted of robbery, which was count 1 of a two-count indictment, count 2 being a count of theft.

The facts are hardly in issue. On 17th January of last year two police officers, Detective Constable Stewart and Sergeant Harrison, were keeping observation from the 14th floor of a tower block in a housing estate in Deptford. They saw the appellant follow a woman who was carrying a shopping basket in her left hand. The appellant approached her from behind and wrenched the basket down and out of her grasp with both hands. That is dealt with at p 16 of the transcript, where the learned judge reminded the jury:

"The woman was carrying her shopping bag in her left hand. This defendant approached her from behind and with both hands wrenched the bag down and out of her grasp. He then turned and retraced his steps and they saw him run between Shellduck Court and Glebe Court, and as he did so he removed his hat."

Thereafter the appellant was apprehended. He denied that he had been in any way involved, and his case before the jury was that he was not guilty of theft, that he was not guilty of robbery, and that his confession, certainly to theft, contained in a statement, had been obtained from him by coercion and force on the part of the police. That aspect of course was clearly not accepted by the jury.

The appellant now appeals, by leave of the Single Judge, against conviction, and he relies on two grounds of appeal. First of all, it is contended that there was insufficient evidence of resistance to the snatching of the bag to constitute force on the person under s 8 of the Theft Act 1968. Secondly, it is contended that the learned judge's direction to the jury on the requirement of force on the person was inadequate and confused.

Prior to the enactment of the Theft Act 1968 there had been numerous decisions, including R v. Gnosill, (1824) 1 C and P 304, where the law then sought to distinguish cases where force was actually directed against the person from those where it was used merely to get possession of the property. We have been reminded that the Law Commission, when making their recommendations to Parliament, indicated that in their view it was undesirable for simple bag-snatching to amount to robbery.

However, in R v. Dawson and James, 64 Cr App Rep 170, which is a post-Act case, this Court held that in directing a jury where the charge is robbery the judge should direct his attention to the words of the statute and not refer to the old authorities, because the object of the Theft Act was to get rid of all the former technicalities of the law of larceny and to put the law in simple language which juries would understand and which they themselves would use. Whether the defendant used force on any person in order to steal is an issue that should be left to the jury. In Dawson and James, where the force was limited to the extent that the person was jostled and lost his balance, it was held that that amounted to force within s 8.

Section 8 (1) of the Theft Act provides:

"A person is guilty of robbery if he steals, and immediately before or at the time of doing so, and in order to do so, he uses force on any person or puts or seeks to put any person in fear of being then and there subjected to force."

The latter part of the subsection has no application here, because the appellant approached the victim from behind and she had no knowledge of his presence until with both hands he managed to break her grasp on the bag in her left hand.

In support of the first of the two grounds of appeal we have been referred to a number of textbooks the learned authors of which would certainly like the law to be as recommended by the Law Commission to Parliament. But there is the case to which we have already referred which in our judgment makes it quite plain that, in the view of this Court, the distinctions which formerly undoubtedly existed between force on the actual person and force on the property which in fact causes force on the person have all gone.

In our judgment the learned judge, on the evidence of the two police officers, was wholly justified and indeed right to leave the issue of robbery or not for the jury, providing that he adequately directed them on the law. Although criticism has been made of the learned judge, this was a case in which almost certainly the jury had copies of the indictment. The learned judge followed the advice given by this Court per Lawton LJ in Dawson and James 64 Cr App Rep 170 (supra) and repeated to the jury the precise wording of s 8 of the Theft Act. True, thereafter he did not use the expression, "on the person", and merely the word "force"; but he told them quite clearly at the outset what the statutory definition was.

The appeal is therefore dismissed on both grounds.

Appeal dismissed

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