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Criminal Damage Act 1971

The Criminal Damage Act 1971 is the leading piece of legislation, concerning offences involving damage to property.

1. Why was it introduced? (Political/Sociological Context)

In April 1969, the Law Commission released a working paper and subsequently in 1970 – a report, which aimed to review the criminal law on the offences of damage to property. Prior to the enactment of the Criminal Damage Act 1971, the criminal law on damage to property was covered by the Malicious Damage Act 1861, which survived for over 100 years. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Law Commission was running a programme which envisaged the codification of criminal law.

In the run-up to the adoption of the Criminal Damage Act 1971, malicious damage offences were very prevalent among juveniles and in the cases of arson, well over half of the convicted persons were juveniles. Furthermore, there were very few cases which called for heavy sentences such as life imprisonment. Yet, there were no less than 25 provisions of the Malicious Damage Act 1861, under which the maximum sentence of imprisonment was 14 years or more.

2. What was the aim of the Act? (Legal Context)

In the report, the Law Commission concluded that the offences and penalties under the Malicious Damage Act 1861 were extremely complicated. Further to that, the Law Commission found that the Malicious Damage Act 1861 was unsatisfactory in many aspects, e.g. there were too many offences, the variety of penalties were excessively wide, there were overlapping offences between the Act and other pieces of legislation and the mental element required in the offences was described in technical language, which made it difficult to understand. As the majority of the cases under the Malicious Damage Act 1861 were dealt with by the magistrates’ courts, it was deemed necessary to create a simple and straightforward law, founded on more rational provisions. For instance, under the Malicious Damage Act 1861, there were multiple classifications of the offences of damage to property, e.g. according to the type of property damaged, the method used, the status of the offender, the circumstances of aggravation, the offender’s object and the extent of damage done. This detailed classification was abandoned in the Criminal Damage Act 1971 in favour of a broad statement of the conduct to be punished, so that there is one offence to cover the whole field of damage.

3. What main changes did it make to the law?

The Act consolidated the definition of property that is capable of forming the subject matter of criminal damage. While in the Malicious Damage Act 1861 there was a division between criminal damage inflicted on a number of objects such as buildings, goods, machinery, corn, trees, vegetable products, fences, mines, sea and river banks, etc., under the Criminal Damage Act 1971 this was formulated as simply “tangible property” under s. 10(1).

S. 1(2) of the 1971 Act creates the new offence of aggravated criminal damage. It includes all elements of general criminal damage but with the additional element of being reckless as to creating danger to life.

S. 1(3) of the 1971 Act draws a distinction between damage by fire and damage by other means. The former is treated with more severity and is charged as arson and punishable by life imprisonment. The reasoning behind this provision is that causing damage by fire has always been regarded with abhorrence. Further to that, life imprisonment is necessary because most people who cause damage by fire are mentally unbalanced, yet they do not qualify for committal to hospital. By giving the flexibility of life imprisonment, it was made possible to keep such individuals in detention for as long as it proves necessary.

Ss. 2 and 3 of the 1971 Act clarify the position on two subsidiary offences – threats to commit criminal damage and possession of anything with the intent to destroy or damage property. Prior to the Criminal Damage Act 1971, threats were only limited to written threats, but now cover all means of threatening. Also, threats to destroy were limited to specific types of tangible property, but now cover all types of tangible property. As far as possession of items with the intent to destroy is concerned, the changes were in the same line of thought. The Malicious Damage Act 1861 used to provide a list with prohibited items, whereas the Criminal Damage Act 1971 makes it illegal to possess anything with the intent to destroy property.

S. 5(2) of the 1971 Act sets out a specific defence against charges for criminal damage, separate from the general self-defence excuse available for all offences involving violent acts. Under the Act, the defendant has a lawful excuse for criminal damage if the person who was entitled to consent to the destruction had consented to it or would have consented to it, had they known the circumstances or the person who committed criminal damage did so in order to protect his property and his actions were reasonable, given the circumstances.

S. 4 significantly simplifies the punishments for acts of criminal damage. Under the 1876 Act there were a number of sections attracting a sentence of life imprisonment, 8 sections, carrying a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment and generally, the maximum sentences of imprisonment used to vary widely in an irrational manner. Under the 1971 Act this was simplified and for arson, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment, whereas for the other offences under the Act – no more than 10 years.


Children and Young Persons Act 1933

There is no single piece of legislation, covering the subject of child protection in the UK. Rather, there are a number of laws and guidance that are continuously being updated or amended. The Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) 1933 is one of the older pieces of child protection legislation. Some of its parts are still in force today.

1. Why was it introduced? (Political/Sociological Context)

The historical context, in which the CYPA 1933 was enacted was the interwar, post-Great Depression period. During WWI, the crime rate among children had decreased. However, it was on the rise again during the Great Depression in 1920s. Although middle-class children came before the courts, working-class children were disproportionately represented there, in particular the boys, as their parents could not provide adequate supervision to them and they had limited access to leisure facilities and supervised play. This was due to the need for parents to work or care for younger children.

The early decades of the twentieth century built upon the Victorian legacy. Under the Victorian interpretation, the family was seen as the basis of social order. Later on, this translated into a scientific search of the link between defective family relationships and defective discipline and between poverty and crime. These arguments influenced key government committees. In January 1925, the then Home Secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, appointed Sir Thomas Molony to investigate the treatment of young offenders. The Molony’s Committee Report was the basis of the CYPA 1933. When Committee reported in 1927, it put an emphasis on the idea of the welfare of children. It recognised that it was possible for a child to be a victim of social and psychological conditions. In this respect, the report called for a full examination of the family circumstances and schooling of young offenders.

The emphasis on welfare in the Molony Committee Report was behind the bringing closer together of the provisions on the delinquent and the neglected in the CYPA 1933. The idea behind the law was to help, rather than punish young people through the courts, which was expected to lead to less reluctance to bring child offenders before them.

Another tendency that could be observed at the time was that children were not committing crimes only because of poverty. Some were doing it because they had psychological problems. The courts increasingly started to refer children and young people for psychological tests. This practice was influenced by the Child Study Movement and the setting up of the first Child Guidance Clinic in East London in 1927.

2. What was the aim of the Act? (Legal Context)

One of the main purposes of the CYPA 1933 was to consolidate all existing child protection legislation at the time into a single act.

By 1933, the legislators had taken measures to protect children from exploitation in factories. The act repeals some of these and re-enacts them with various changes, e.g. cutting down the hours of employment, leaving the employment opportunities to children at certain ages, clarifying that the schooling of children takes precedence over their employment.

The CYPA 1933 implemented the idea behind the Molony Committee Report that there ought to be no reluctance to bring children and young persons before a youth court. Much of the Act is concerned with the idea of preventing children and young persons from drifting into crime by getting hold of delinquents as young as possible, trying them as quietly and anonymously as possible and then sentencing them to special treatment designed to teach them to be responsible citizens. In this respect, very wide powers were given to different bodies and persons to bring a child or young person before a court. These varied from arrest to bringing any child in need of protection before the court.

The act aimed at setting up special youth courts in which the judges are specially qualified for dealing with children and young people. The predominant consideration of these courts was intended to be the welfare of the minor concerned and they were given a wide range of measures they could prescribe, such as commitment to an approved school, care by a fit person and other lesser punishments. This was to happen with as much confidentiality as possible as the general public was to be excluded from the proceedings and the newspapers to be precluded from publishing material on any trial for an offence under the CYPA 1933.

3. What main changes did it make to the law?

In s. 44, the CYPA 1933 for the first time laid down the principle that in dealing with a child or young person, the magistrates have to consider the welfare of these persons and take steps to remove them from undesirable surroundings.

Ss. 39 and 49 place restrictions on the reports of proceedings in which children or young persons are concerned. Journalists may not give the name, address, school and any other details likely to lead to the identification of the offender and publish their still image. The rationale behind this provision is to prevent any potential future jeopardisation of the child’s chances of employment.

Ss. 45 to 48 significantly broadened the powers of the youth courts. Under s. 46, the youth courts are to hear almost all cases involving children or young people, save for only a very limited number of exceptions set out in s. 46(1).

S. 7 for the first time made it illegal for adults to sell tobacco to underage persons.

The Act introduced a number of other substantive changes. For instance, the age of execution was raised to eighteen; in s. 50, the age of criminal responsibility was raised from seven to eight (and later – ten) and in s. 18(1)(a), the minimum working age was set at fourteen.


Intoxicating Substance (Supply) Act 1985

The Intoxicating Substance (Supply) Act 1985 is a short piece of legislation, designed to prohibit the supply of drugs, not controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 – primarily volatile substances (glues and solvents), to people under the age of eighteen when it is likely that they will use them for the purposes of intoxication. The Act was recently repealed and succeeded by the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.

1. Why was it introduced? (Political/Sociological Context)

The Act was enacted to address the growing public concern of the social problem of ‘glue sniffing’. The vast majority of young people who engaged in this practice, did so out of curiosity and in many cases it was a group activity. The rest did so because they were addicted to solvent abuse. Most of them came from disturbed families and this was their way of seeking attention or escaping the reality. Of those who have become addicted to solvent substances, a significant number went on to hard drugs.

There was a rise in the cases where a single trial sniff of a volatile substance had led to death. The acts of anti-social behaviour committed by people under the influence of volatile substances became more frequent.

At the same time, the volatile substances were cheap and easy to obtain. They were (and continue to be) available in every household as they include substances such as glue, fire extinguisher liquid, anti-perspirants, air fresheners, fly sprays, hair sprays, petrol, paint thinner, plaster remover, cleaning agents, etc.

The police were powerless to prevent the sale of glue to children for inhaling purposes as glue was sold in old crisp bags, known as ‘happy bags’.

2. What was the aim of the Act? (Legal Context)

Two years before the Intoxicating Substance (Supply) Act 1985, Scotland enacted the Solvent Abuse (Scotland) Act 1983. The Scottish Act made solvent sniffing one of the grounds for referring a young person to a Children’s Panel, which is a semi-judicial body to whom children who commit some offences can be referred. The Intoxicating Substance (Supply) Act 1985 sought to bring into the statute book of England and Wales similar rules to the ones, already applicable in Scotland.

Further to that, the Intoxicating Substance (Supply) Act 1985 sought to deter ill-intentioned shopkeepers from selling volatile substances to children by threatening them with the possibility of prison sentence. The police were aware of shops that were carrying out secret trade of glue, but had no legislative footing to act upon and the act gave them such footing.

Though useful, the Intoxicating Substance (Supply) Act 1985 was underutilised because the combination of education, legislation on the issues associated with drugs and the gradual substitution of volatile substances by legal highs, led to a reduction in the deaths from volatile substance use. The successful prosecutions under the Act were extremely low – there were only 64 convictions between 1985 and 2008.

3. What main changes did it make to the law?

The major change in the law that Intoxicating Substance (Supply) Act 1985 made was that it created the offence of supply of intoxicating substance under s. 1(1). In essence, it became illegal for a person to supply or offer to supply a substance other than a controlled drug to a person under the age of eighteen or to a person who is acting on behalf of the person under the age of eighteen, for whom the shopkeeper has a reasonable cause to suspect that he is acting so in order to supply the substance to the underage person for the purposes of intoxication. The exact wording of the act includes the likelihood of inhaling the substance for the purposes of intoxication. Currently, under the new Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, a zero tolerance approach towards the supply and offering to supply of psychoactive substances is adopted. In practice, this means that all sale of such substances across all age groups is prohibited.

S. 1(2) of the Intoxicating Substance (Supply) Act 1985 creates a defence against charges for the offence of supply of intoxicating substance. A person who is charged with this offence, can avoid conviction if he is able to show that at the time of supplying or offering to supply the substance, he was under the age of eighteen and was acting otherwise than with the purposes of pursuing his business interest.

S. 1(3) of the Intoxicating Substance (Supply) Act 1985 introduced a sentence or penalties for those found guilty of the offence of supplying or offering to supply volatile substances. The sentence cannot exceed 6 months and the fine - £2,000.


Land Registration Act 2002

The Land Registration Act 2002 repealed and replaced the previous legislation governing land registration. In principle, this the piece of primary legislation governing the activity of the Land Registry, but further to this role, the 2002 Act was intended to facilitate the introduction of e-conveyancing. The Act was enacted following the release of a joint report between the Law Commission and the Land Registry in 2001.

1. Why was it introduced? (Political/Sociological Context)

When the Law Commission and the Land Registry published their initial proposal for changes in the law of land registration in 1998 and proposed that conveyancing might be conducted electronically, this idea was relatively unfamiliar. However, between 1998 and 2001, the two institutions managed to gather the support of the property industry and the legal practitioners for the introduction of a system of dealing with land in dematerialised form. Gradually, the introduction of such a system came to be regarded as inevitable.

The public, however, wanted the introduction of e-conveyancing, to be matched by the production of clear benefits, such as less stressful system of dealing with land, better protection of title to land and for the rights and interests that exist in land.

At the time, the majority of the titles to land were registered and the unregistered titles were become rarer. It was predicted that in very near future it would be required from all title holders to take steps to bring on the register what is left from the land in the form of unregistered titles. The continuation of two parallel systems were considered unsustainable as since 1900, the land register had been publicly accessible. It was no longer something of concern purely to the conveyancers, but also a valuable resource for the public.

A further rationale behind the Act was addressing the commonly held view that it was unreasonable to expect people to register their rights in land by simplifying the process of land registration through e-conveyancing. 

2. What was the aim of the Act? (Legal Context)

The fundamental objective of the 2002 Act was that under the system of e-conveyancing which it sought to introduce, the land register would be a complete and accurate reflection of the state of the title of land at any given time. It was considered that this would enable to investigate title to land online and minimise the additional enquiries and inspections that need to be carried out.

Prior to the Land Registration Act 2002, there was no requirement that a disposition of registered land had to be entered in the register if it was to be effective. Without registration, dispositions were valid between the parties to them and many other third parties who subsequently acquired interest in the land, but not all of them. This created a registration gap. The act aimed at eliminating the lack of legal effect of dispositions to some parties in the interim period between the transfer or grant and its entry in the Land Registry.

Furthermore, there were a number of overriding interests in the land, which are not protected in the register, but nevertheless bind any person who subsequently acquires interest in the land, regardless of whether he knew of them or could easily have discovered their existence.

In light of the above, in order to achieve its overall objective, the act had to first achieve a number of smaller goals, such as protecting all express dispositions of registered land on the register unless there are good reasons for not doing so, making it impossible to make most dispositions of registered land except by registering them and significantly reducing in scope the categories of overriding interests.

3. What main changes did it make to the law?

Part 8 of the Land Registration Act 2002 creates the legal framework in which it becomes possible to transfer and create interests in registered land by electronic means.

The Act tightened the rules on adverse possession and abandoned the notion that a squatter acquires a title over the land once they have been in adverse possession for twelve years. To this effect s. 96 of the Act provides land owners with a greater protection against the acquisition of title by persons in adverse possession.

S. 4(1)(c) of the Act provides for extending the compulsory registration of titles to leases granted for more than seven years and s. 5 gives the Secretary of State the power to further reduce the length of leases, which are to be subjected to registration.

Schedule 1 and 3 of the Land Registration Act 2002 clarify the rules on unregistered interests which override respectively the first registration and the registered dispositions and s. 71 places a duty on the person applying for registration to disclose any such interests. The range of overriding interests is significantly restricted in scope – some categories were completely abolished and others are to be phased out after ten years, such as a franchise, manorial rights, the right to rent, reserved to the Crown on granting of any freehold estate, the right in respect of an embankment, sea or river wall, the right to payment in lieu of tithe and the right in respect of a repair of a church chancel.

Prior to the Land Registration Act 2002, Crown land was not subject to registration. Part 7 of the Land Registration Act 2002 makes this land registrable.

Part 11 of the Act sets up a new system of adjudication of disputes arising out of disputed applications on the register.


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