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  • Tess McCarthy

What is criminal damage?

Updated: Feb 2

Criminal damage is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the act of intentionally or recklessly destroying or damaging property belonging to another person without lawful excuse.

Breaking this down, the following elements will need to be proved by the prosecution:

  • Destroying or damaging: Damaging property is construed widely. It does not have to be permanently destroyed or unfit for purpose, and can include simply altering the value of the property temporarily (for example, by throwing paint at a window);

  • Property: The property that is the subject of the charge must be tangible. Therefore, it must have physical form and be something that can be touched;

  • Belonging to another: It is not criminal damage if the property solely belongs to yourself. However, you can be charged with criminal damage if you damage something for which you share ownership with another person, or that belongs to someone else entirely;

  • Without lawful excuse: The only lawful excuse for criminal damage is if you genuinely held a belief that the owner of the property would have consented to you destroying or damaging the property, or that you were entitled to do so. You will have to prove a lawful excuse on the balance of probabilities;

  • Intention or recklessness: You have intention if your actions had the desired outcome. You will be reckless if you fail to have any regard for the outcome of your actions, yet act knowing that your actions could have some ill effect.

What will happen if I am charged with criminal damage?

If you are charged with criminal damage, where the case will be dealt with is primarily related to the value of the damage caused.

Where the value of damage does not exceed £5,000, it can only be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court and is known as a ‘summary only’ offence.

However, if the value of damage does exceed £5,000, the charge becomes what is known as an ‘either way’ offence. This means that it can be dealt with in the Magistrates' Court or the Crown Court.

The Magistrates' Court have limited sentencing powers up to a maximum of 6 months’ imprisonment for a single offence.

If you are charged with criminal damage valued at over £5,000, the Magistrates will need to consider if their sentencing powers are sufficient, such that in the worst case, would a 6 month term of imprisonment be sufficient. If the answer to that is ‘no’, they can decline to retain your case and it will be sent up to the Crown Court to be dealt with there.

If however they think their powers are sufficient, the person charged can still elect to have their case sent to the Crown Court because, for example, they may prefer to be tried by jury rather than the Magistrates’.

If you are given the option, there are pros and cons of both and your legal representative can advise you about those.

What sentence will I get if I am convicted of criminal damage?

As before, this will depend on various factors, including whether you are sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court or Crown Court.

If the value was under £5,000 and you are sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court, the maximum sentence is a fine of £2,500 and/or up to 3 months’ imprisonment.

If the value was over £5,000 and you are sentenced in the Crown Court, the maximum sentence increases to 10 years’ imprisonment.

These are the absolute maximums, and your sentence will ultimately depend on an endless list of factors, including the nature and circumstances of the offence, the final value of the relevant damage, any aggravating or mitigating features.

The Court also have the benefit of sentencing guidelines to consider to help with the sentencing exercise.

Legal disclaimer: Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein is accurate at the date of publication but please note that the law is ever changing and evolving. If you require advice in relation to any matter raised in this article please contact a member of the team.


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