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A Guide to the UK Burglary Sentencing Guidelines

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Burglary, not to be confused with theft or robbery, is the unlawful entry into a person’s home or other private premises, with the intention to steal. Due to the invasive and frightening nature of burglary, it is considered to be a serious crime by the courts of England and Wales. After a drop in burglary crimes during lockdown of 20%, experts predict a surge in these types of crimes in 2021, after lockdown ends and people resume their normal activities outside of the home.

If you have been charged with burglary, this article is for you. Here we unpack the offence of burglary. It explains the difference between burglary and robbery and looks at the maximum sentence that you can get for burglary in the UK. We consider the burglary sentencing guidelines, including factors that will lead to a more severe sentence being imposed by the courts. It also looks at commercial burglary and how this is treated differently by the courts, compared to domestic burglary.

What is burglary?

Burglary is the unlawful entry into a building or part of a building, in order to steal, commit grievous bodily harm, or cause criminal damage, or with the intention to commit one of these unlawful acts. It is one of the more serious of various offences outlined under the Theft Act 1968. Section 9 of the Theft Act 1968 sets out the elements of the offence as follows:

The defendant:

  1. enters: this defined as putting any body part within the building i.e. it could include reaching through a window.
  2. the building/part of the building: this is a wide definition, which has been interpreted by the courts as meaning any inhabited building or vessel. This could include a house, a boat, a caravan, an office, a warehouse etc. A building that is empty or abandoned would not satisfy this definition.
  3. as a trespasser: the defendant must not be allowed to enter the building, or part of it. In order to satisfy the mental intention part of the offence, the defendant must know that they are not permitted to enter the space. However, this element of the offence can also be satisfied if a person enters the building lawfully but with a dishonest intention e.g. a person enters a building lawfully as a courier but then steals something whilst inside.
  4. committing, or intending to commit one of the following offences:
    1. theft: Theft is defined at Section 1 of the Theft Act as follows:

A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it.

  1. grievous bodily harm: this means really serious physical harm to a person
  2. criminal damage: this means the unlawful destruction of a person’s property.

The definition of burglary includes a situation where a defendant enters a property intending to a steal, but is disturbed and flees the scene before anything is actually taken. In these circumstances, the crime will be charged as attempted burglary.

What is the difference between burglary and robbery?

Burglary relates to theft that takes place following unlawful entry into an inhabited property – whether this a dwelling or a commercial building. The definition of burglary includes circumstances where force is used against the inhabitant, although not all burglaries involve the use of force. For example, if a man cons an elderly woman into believing he is there to read the electricity meter. Once inside, he pulls out a knife to threaten her, and proceedings to ransack her home. Due to the presence of a weapon, this would be charged as aggravated burglary.

By contrast, robbery relates to circumstances where the defendant uses or threatens force on the victim before stealing from them. Robbery encompasses scenarios such as muggings that take place on the street or on public transport. For example, two schoolgirls bully and harass a girl from another school on the train. They threaten to beat her up if she does not give them her mobile phone. If no force is threatened or used, this would be charged as the less serious offence of theft rather than as robbery.

What is the maximum sentence you can get for burglary in the UK?

If you are convicted of burglary of a non-domestic building e.g. a shop or an office, you could face a jail sentence of up to 10 years. Meanwhile, the maximum sentence for a conviction for burglary of a dwelling, i.e. a person’s home, is 14 years. The maximum sentence for aggravated burglary, which is defined as burglary where the defendant was armed with a weapon, is life imprisonment.

Life imprisonment does not necessarily mean that you will spend your whole life in prison. It means that even once you are released into the community, you will remain on licence and could be recalled to prison if you commit further offences. However, maximum sentences are reserved for only the most extreme cases. Most cases of burglary face much shorter sentences than these ones.

What are the burglary sentencing guidelines?

The sentencing guidelines for burglary can be found here. They set out different guidelines for domestic burglary, non-domestic burglary, and aggravated burglary.

Aggravated burglary is an indictable only offence, which means that it must be heard in the Crown Court, which has greater sentencing powers than the Magistrate’s Court. Domestic and non-domestic burglary are either way offences, which mean that they could be heard either in the Magistrate’s Court, or in the Crown Court, depending on the defendant’s wishes and on the view taken by the Magistrate regarding the seriousness of the case.

During sentencing, the court will assess the case on its facts in order to determine the level of harm, and the level of culpability. Factors that suggest greater harm are significant loss to the victim, and ransacking or vandalism by the defendant. In addition, the court will consider the harm to be greater if violence was used or threatened against the victim, or if, in the case of domestic burglaries, the victim was at home at the time of the offence. If the victim did not suffer physical or psychological harm, and/or if the defendant did not threaten any harm to the victim, these factors would suggest lesser harm.

A significant degree of planning or organisation indicates higher culpability. Offences where the defendant operates as part of a group or gang of offenders will be held more culpable than those that are conducted impulsively or opportunistically. Meanwhile, an offender with significant mental health issues, a learning disability, or who was exploited by others, would be held less culpable. The court will also consider any other aggravating or mitigating factors that may apply.

For example, on the extreme end of the spectrum, a conviction for aggravated burglary where a weapon was on display and violence was used against a vulnerable inhabitant of a home dwelling would face a sentence of between 9 and 13 years. A non-domestic burglary where the items stolen were of high value, the defendant acted as part of a group of criminals, and a night watchman was present at the time of the offence, would face a sentence of imprisonment of at least 2 years.

Meanwhile, an opportunistic theft where a defendant reached her hand through an open window of a person’s house to steal their wallet would likely face a community order, or a sentence of less than 26 weeks’ imprisonment. Remember, however, that the court will find previous convictions for similar offences to be an aggravating factor, which would increase the length of the sentence.

Does commercial burglary carry a different sentence?

Commercial burglary is where a defendant enters a business premises such as a shop or an office in order to steal, or with the intention of stealing. The sentencing guidelines that apply to these types of offences are the sentencing guidelines for non-domestic burglaries. The sentence that would apply for a commercial burglary depends on factors such as whether it involves a significant degree of planning or pre-meditation.

If it was an impulsive ‘smash and grab’ offence where a lone individual broke a window in order to steal goods, this would attract a less severe sentence than a sophisticated plot conducted by organised criminals, with the means to disable alarms etc. A burglary of high value goods from commercial premises would attract a more severe sentence than the theft of small items such as food or basic daily goods.

Where to get further help

If you have been accused of burglary, you can’t risk losing time in the preparation of your defence. Instruct a criminal defence solicitor whom you trust today. The right legal advice may just make all the difference to your case. At Stuart Miller Solicitors, our experienced team of solicitors are ready to provide you with robust advice on your case and the options available to you. Get in touch for a no obligation consultation today.

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