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Civil Law Principles

Whilst theft is a criminal act, it is also a “tort” in civil law (delict in Scotland). There are civil law remedies available for the torts of trespass and conversion which arise from theft and damage.

A business invites its customers to its premises for specific purposes, such as, browsing and purchasing goods, or partaking of services. When a customer steals or doesn’t pay for services, they are acting outside that purpose and are committing a trespass. Where goods are stolen this is also a conversion. Such acts are actionable in civil law.

A business employs staff to fulfill a specific role. Where staff steal or damage goods, or procure services without payment, they are similarly committing a trespass and conversion. There is also a contractual relationship between a business and its employees and there are further implied terms such as a duty of trust of confidence which are breached in such incidents. Civil remedies are therefore available in both tort and contract where an employee causes loss and damage.

Where liability for trespass and/or conversion can be established, the wronged party is entitled to recover its losses which were foreseeable. Damages are available in respect of the goods damaged or stolen, and special damages are available for all other foreseeable consequential losses such as the cost of the disruption to the business, in investigation, security and administrative costs which naturally flow from the wrongdoing.

Any civil proceedings for recovery are entirely separate from criminal proceedings and can be used in addition to or independent of criminal action.


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