Burglary is typically defined as the unlawful entry into a building, or building structure with the intent to steal, inflict grievous bodily harm on any person withing the premises or commit criminal damage.
No physical form of breaking is required; the offender could simply trespass on the property. However, unlike robbery offences which involve the threat of force against a person, burglary does not need another person present.
Even if the offender leaves the building with nothing, they have committed a burglary offence. Burglary crimes can be tried in both the magistrates’ court and the Crown Court as it is an either-way offence, cases are assessed on severity.
While other laws criminalise theft, burglary laws were developed to maintain the quality of a building and safeguard residents from coming up against burglars.
Elements of Burglary
Under Section 9 of the Theft Act (the Act) 1968, burglary is when:
- A person enters a building as a trespasser with the intent to steal, inflict grievous bodily harm (GBH), unlawful damage
- Or when the trespasser takes or attempts to steal, inflicts or attempts to inflict harm, or causes criminal damage on any part of the building
The penalty is then determined based on whether the property entered is a place of dwelling, or not. When a defendant trespasses on an area of residence, the offender could receive 14 years imprisonment; otherwise, a maximum sentence of ten years can be given.
Breaking and Entering
Breaking into and entering a building, or part of a building unlawfully is the first element of burglary.
Building and Dwelling
According to the modern definition, a building refers to any structure capable of housing people, animals, or sheltering property, including and not limited to houses, garages and office buildings.
While there is no comprehensive definition within the Act 1968 for what constitutes as a dwelling, in broader terms, the more habitable a building, the more likely it is to be a place of dwelling. A dwelling is often defined as a structure used by people to sleep in.
An offender may not meet the requirements for a burglary charge if they trespass on a fenced-off area as generally this would not house or shelter animals, people or property.
If a defendant enters a dwelling lawfully but breaks into a part of that dwelling once inside, they may also be liable for a burglary conviction.
In the case of a shop, or office, the structure must be closed to the public; otherwise, the crime would be shoplifting, not burglary.
Under Section 10 of the Act 1968, aggravated burglary is defined as burglary with a firearm, imitation firearm, any offensive weapon, or any explosive.
- “Firearm” includes revolvers, air pistols and semi-automatic rifles; “imitation firearm” refers to anything that resembles a firearm; it does not have to be capable of firing.
- “Offensive weapons” describe any items made, adapted or carried to cause harm to another, such as knives, a bottle filled with acid or pepper spray.
- “Explosive” means any article manufactured with the capability of bursting violently or intended to by the person having it on them for that purpose.
Under the Sentencing Council’s guidelines, burglary offenders can face between three to thirteen years imprisonment, depending on the level of liability and harm.
In non-domestic cases, the person found guilty can receive a maximum sentence of five years. However, the maximum penalty for an aggravated burglary offence triable on conviction of indictment is life imprisonment.