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Section 378 of the Penal Code provides the scope of “Theft”, which comprises of the following elements.

  1. There must be a dishonest intention
  2. The offender had moved moveable property out of the possession of any person
  3. Movement of that property was done without that person’s consent


What is dishonest intention?

Dishonest intention refers to the intent to cause a wrongful gain or loss of a property.


What is considered “moveable property”?

Section 22 of the Penal Code defines “moveable property” to include corporeal property of every description, except land and things attached to the earth (e.g. land), or permanently fastened to anything which is attached to the earth (e.g. building). However, once such a property is detached from the earth, it becomes moveable property.


Punishment for Theft

Relevant Legislation Offence Punishment
Section 379A of the Penal Code Theft of a motor vehicle or any component part Up to 7 years imprisonment and shall also be liable to fine. Disqualification from holding or obtaining a driving licence unless the court for special reasons thinks fit to order otherwise.
Section 380 of the Penal Code Theft in dwelling-house Up to 7 years imprisonment and shall also be liable to fine.
Section 381 of the Penal Code Theft by clerk or servant of property in possession of master Up to 7 years imprisonment and shall also be liable to fine.
Section 382 of the Penal Code Theft after preparation made for causing death or hurt in order to commit theft Up to 10 years imprisonment and shall also be punished with caning with not less than 3 strokes.


Examples of theft

  • Pickpocketing
  • Shoplifting


Difference between Theft and Robbery

Under Section 390(2) of the Penal Code, theft is robbery if the offender, in the commission of theft, voluntarily causes or attempts to cause to any person death, or hurt, or wrongful restraint, or fear of instant death, or of instant hurt, or of instant wrongful restraint.


Difference between Theft and Criminal Misappropriation

The main distinction between theft and criminal misappropriation is the circumstances in which the offender obtains the property. While theft refers to situations where the offender dishonestly takes the property from the victim’s possession, misappropriation refers to situations where the property was found in a morally and legally neutral manner (e.g. finding it on the street). Under misappropriation, the dishonest intention is only formed after obtaining the property. When a person finds and takes possession of a lost property, he/she must take reasonable steps to discover and give notice to the owner and can only keep the lost chattel for a reasonable time to allow the owner to claim it (Wong Seng Kwan v Public Prosecutor).


Sentencing considerations for youth offenders

As stated by the High Court in Public Prosecutor v Mok Ping Wuen Maurice, rehabilitation is a key principle in sentencing offenders under the age of 21. This is to allow youth offenders the opportunity to turn over a new leaf. Thus, the courts will generally award sentences such as probation, Reformative Training, or Theft Intervention Programme.Probation period may range from 6 months to 3 years, during which, the offender will be supervised by a Probation Officer.Under Reformative Training, the youth offender undergoes a comprehensive rehabilitation programme in a Reformative Training Centre (RTC). The RTC provides community and residential rehabilitation for youth offenders to re-integrate into society. Additionally, the High Court in Public Prosecutor v Saiful Rizam bin Assim and other appeals stated that in deciding whether reformative training should be given instead, considerations of proportionality between the punishment meted out and the gravity of the offence would be crucial.The Theft Intervention Programme is a 4-month specialised treatment group programme for adolescents who have repeatedly committed theft offences. The objective is to change the way theft offenders think about stealing and to teach them skills to desist from their theft behaviour.


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