Ministers have been called on to explain how proposals contained in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Policing and Crime Bill will not lead to fewer prosecutions of shop theft offences.
The Bill contains a clause that seeks to change the status of any shop theft worth less than £200 to a ‘summary’ offence, which would remove the prospect of the case being heard in Crown Court
If passed, this change would mean that shop theft offences would be dealt with in the same way as many road traffic offences. Shop theft involving amounts less than £200 could only be referred to a Magistrates Court and processing would be handled by the Police without the involvement of the Crown Prosecution Service.
The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) is concerned that it will lead to a reduction in the number of shop theft cases that will be dealt with by the courts and an overall reduction in the perceived seriousness of the crime.
James Lowman, ACS chief executive, said: “Shop theft is a serious crime, usually perpetrated by repeat offenders, and must be taken seriously by the judicial system. We are very concerned that this significant change in the law has been brought forward at the last minute without thorough consultation with retailers.”
These concerns were echoed by Conservative MP Priti Patel during the Bill’s second reading in Parliament. “Owners of small shops in particular will be concerned about what they will see as a downgrading in the way that thefts of a value of below £200 are treated,” she said. “As well as the stress and pressure, there is also the matter of the cost to the business. More often than not shopkeepers install CCTV and spend a lot of time dealing with the police and providing evidence.”
The Bill will be put before a Public Bill Committee which will submit a report by July 16.