Practical exercise (

Discussing criminal liability of parties

Practical exercise ( Discussing criminal liability of parties

Use the techniques outlined earlier to identify the issues in this problem question. Do not worry if you cannot make an exact identification of the relevant offences; focus on framing the issues at this stage. It is perfectly permissible to identify a range of potential offences, that is, burglary/theft, or to go for a general topic, that is, one of the non-fatal offences against the person, at this stage as the research that you go on to conduct will help you to narrow down the possibilities.

Matt is short of money and hopes to borrow £500 from his brother, Luke. In order to get into Luke’s good books, Matt decides to take him a bottle of whisky that he plans to steal from the local supermarket. Once inside the supermarket, Matt loses his nerve and leaves without going near the alcohol aisle. Instead, he goes into a department store and uses his credit card to buy Luke an expensive sweater, knowing that he is over his credit limit. Luke is thrilled with the sweater but refuses to lend Matt any money. Matt punches Luke in the face causing a cut which requires stitches. Luke sets fire to the sweater and leaves it burning on Matt’s doorstep the following day.

Discuss the criminal liability of the parties.

Suggested answer tips

Using the ‘who has done what to whom?’ approach, it is possible to identify the following issues from this question:


Has done what

To whom


Went into the supermarket intending to steal some whisky but left without approaching the alcohol aisle

The supermarket


Used his credit card to buy a sweater even though he knew he was over his limit

The department store





Set fire to his own sweater and left it burning on Matt’s doorstep


In criminal law, it is less important to identify the victim because the prosecution will be initiated by the state. This technique can still be useful though because it clarifies what has happened even though you are not trying to identify a potential claimant as you would be if dealing with civil law.

Once you have a list of potential bases for liability, these can act as issues that provide the framework for your answer. It is true that they will need to be broken down into sub-issues to make them more manageable but the identification of the issues is the starting point for doing this. It also enables you to analyse each of the issues to clarify your initial thoughts about the potential liability and to identify questions that you need to answer in order to be able to deal effectively with the issue. For example:

  1. Matt goes into the supermarket intending to steal a bottle of whisky but leaves without doing so. Does this intention give rise to any liability? He intended to steal but stopped short of doing so thus this could be attempted theft. He did not even approach the whisky so is this enough to give rise to liability for attempt? As he went into the shop with the intention to steal, there could be liability for burglary. Does it matter that he changed his mind?
  2. Matt used his credit card to purchase a sweater even though he was over his credit limit. Is this some kind of fraud/property offence? Can he be liable for using his own credit card?
  3. Matt has punched Luke causing a cut that needs stitches. This would give rise to liability for one of the non-fatal offences against the person but which one? A cut does not sound very serious and Matt only hit Luke once but the cut is bad enough to need hospital treatment and stitches.
  4. Luke sets fire to the sweater and leaves it on Matt’s doorstep. Is this arson? Does it matter that the sweater belongs to Luke so he has destroyed his own property? Even if he is not liable for burning his own sweater, will he be liable for leaving it burning on Luke’s doorstep given that the fire could have spread to the house?

Hopefully you can see that you do not need to know the answer in order to extrapolate issues from a set of facts. You should be able to carve out separate events from the mass of detail that gives you at least a starting point for organizing your answer.


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