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STEALING CHARGES AND HIRED GOODS: The Law in Queensland

When it comes to stealing charges related to hired goods, the law is Queensland is not quite as one would imagine. From a Criminal Law standpoint, offences of such a substance must be looked at in accordance with the principles in the Supreme Court of Queensland (Court of Appeal) decision of R v Angus 2000 QCA 29. The key takeaway from that decision is that keeping possession of hired or borrowed goods beyond the agreed date for return does not amount to stealing; by itself.

Another pivotal decision from 1919 that can be relied upon when considering this legal argument is Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Co v MacNicoll. It is this decision that lays out the two essential elements, being intention to deprive and conversion.

The intent to permanently deprive can be quite tricky for the Prosecutor to prove in such cases. The Angus decision, as above, lays out that:

“The fact that the goods were not redelivered by when they were due to be returned would, not without more, justify an inference … that the hirer intended to permanently deprive the owner of them.”

Emphasis must be placed on the words “not without more”. Usually, this requires an overt act. This can be satisfied by things such as refusing to comply with demands to return the goods. So in an instance where a rental is not returned by the hirer, and they go ahead and make a “stop payment” request with their bank; this could satisfy an intention to permanently deprive.

Theft of Hired Goods can be tricky from a Criminal Law standpoint.

The element of Conversion requires “not just passive possession, but an act of conversion; that must be or include a physical dealing with the goods inconsistent with the true owner's rights” (Angus). The language of the decision is quite clear. To prove conversion requires a physical act. This can be proved by acts done such as moving the goods, converting the goods to own use (installing/modifying or even using for oneself) or destroying, discarding, selling or pawning, or even attempting to do so. This is quite a broad definition and can encompass a whole variety of acts.

As in the Angus decision, charges of stealing when it comes to hire agreements can be quite tricky from the Criminal Law point of view, and in many situations, evidence may even fall short of criminal conduct.

However, this is not to say that no wrongdoing is made out. The Defendant in such a situation would definitely be liable under Civil Law and Contract Law.

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