Criminal Law

An introduction to the laws relating to stealing offences

Published in: May 2017

Stealing, larceny or theft, whatever the term, such actions will be considered criminal in all Australian jurisdictions whether it is at the state or federal level. There are a number of elements of the offence of theft or stealing that this piece will take a look at.


Using s 72 of the Crimes Act 1958 (VIC) as our legislative example, the basic definition of theft is as follows:

  • a person steals if they dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it;
  • a person who steals is guilty of theft, and “thief” shall be construed accordingly.

Looking at the offence at the Commonwealth level, s 131.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 states that a person commits an offence if they dishonestly appropriate property belonging to another, with the intention of permanently depriving the other of the property, and said property belongs to a Commonwealth entity.


Supermarkets are an obvious candidate of where stealing may be regular occurrence, and it is perhaps of little surprise that many cases heard in courts relate to theft in supermarkets. Some of the following acts have been dealt with by the courts in relation to stealing offences.

Switching price labels: Any person who has switched price tags, and has paid for the lower price, will be considered to have stolen the goods as was noted in R v Morris [1984] AC 320; [1983] 3 All ER 288; 77 CR App R 309 (HL).

Hiding something in clothing: Another method of stealing may involve the concealing of an item in clothing. In Basset v L (1984) 112 LSJS 167 (SA), Milhouse J found the accused had held the intention to steal after he was found to have concealed a cassette down the front of his trousers at a Coles.

On a related note, if it can be proven that a person had no intention for paying for the goods in question, the offence of stealing is complete, even if they had not yet gone past the checkout as was noted in Humes v Townsend (1989) 4 WAR 196.

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