New laws which value the “emotional harm” of a crime could be brought to bear in mobile theft.
The Sentencing Council for England and Wales has issued new guidelines for judges ruling in theft cases and in the section on “general theft”, which includes :
- Theft from the person
- Theft in a dwelling Theft in breach of trust
- Theft from a motor vehicle
- Theft of a motor vehicle
- Theft of a pedal bicycle and all other section 1 Theft Act 1968 offences, excluding theft from a shop or stall
The guidelines say that harm is assessed by reference to the financial loss that results from the theft and any significant additional harm suffered by the victim.
Examples of significant additional harm may include but are not limited to:
- Emotional distress,
- Damage to property,
- Effect on business,
- A greater Impact on the victim due to the size or type of their business
- and a particularly vulnerable victim
The emotional harm stipulation also covers “theft from a shop or stall” and “making off without a payment”.
The council believes that the loss of a phone that contains irreplaceable photographs or email, text or voice messages will come under the remit of emotional harm, and this will be reflected in tougher – albeit unspecified – sentences for those who steal phones. It particularly highlights the case if the mobile contains messages sent by someone who has subsequently died.
The new guidelines apply to all offenders aged 18 and older, who are sentenced on or after 1 February 2016, regardless of the date of the offence.