Section 23 of the Theft Act 1968 states:

Advertising rewards for return of goods stolen or lost.

Where any public advertisement of a reward for the return of any goods which have been stolen or lost uses any words to the effect that no questions will be asked, or that the person producing the goods will be safe from apprehension or inquiry, or that any money paid for the purchase of the goods or advanced by way of loan on them will be repaid, the person advertising the reward and any person who prints or publishes the advertisement shall on summary conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding [level 3 on the standard scale.]

It seems like its main possible effect would be to criminalise the most desperate victims of theft. What could be the likely logic behind it?


1 Answer 1


The intent is to ensure that thieves and handlers of stolen goods cannot profit from their crimes. A victim may be desperate to secure the return of their property, but the consequences for the wider society need also to be considered.

Crimes are considered to be an offence against the whole of society, not just an individual victim. This is why in a criminal case, the plaintiff is the King, not the victim. "Criminal law is devised in order to protect society against types of conduct which are so offensive or serious that those who so conduct themselves should be liable to be punished or controlled by the State" (Lord Stonham)

By offering "no questions asked" the victim gives the thief a route to benefit from their crime, and so encourages further crime. This clause prevents the thief or handler from escaping prosecution by returning an item in return for a reward.

  • 4
    I have searched Hansard for the detailed discussion of this clause, but it seems to have been nodded through without debate. It would have been discussed in committee, but committee records from the 1960s are not online.
    – James K
    Dec 2, 2023 at 20:02

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