There is a lot of overlap between the criminal offences of robbery and extortion. However, there are also significant differences and it is important to understand what the requirements are for each offence to make it clear which applies in the relevant circumstances.
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Robbery falls under the Theft Act 1968 and is defined as follows: “A person is guilty of robbery if he steals, and immediately before or at the time of doing so, and in order to do so, he uses force on any person or puts or seeks to put any person in fear of being then and there subjected to force”.
Robbery is the combination of stealing (the offence of theft) with the threat of violence. Theft is defined as dishonestly appropriating property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it.
The timing of the threat of violence is very important for the offence of robbery to be made out. If the act of theft is complete before the threat is made, then this will not satisfy the requirements for robbery.
The force must be used with the intent to steal. If force is used, and then following this the defendant decides to commit theft, then this is not robbery- there would be an assault followed by a theft. There is no specification as to what level of force needs to be used to qualify under the definition of robbery.
Extortion also involves the use of threats of physical harm against the victim or another person to obtain money, property or services. The offender will use threats, force, coercion or intimidation to ensure their demands are fulfilled.
Although there is a lot of overlap between the two offences, there are some very important differences.
One of the main differences revolves around consent. For robbery to occur, the victim will not be giving consent for the items to be taken and instead they are taken by force. However, with extortion- there is a degree of consent (albeit unwittingly) and the victim does agree to the defendant taking the items to prevent the threat from occurring.
Another difference is when the threat will occur. For robbery to have taken place, the threat has to be of immediate physical harm. With extortion, the threat of harm does not have to be at that point- it can be in the future and this will still amount of the offence of extortion being committed.
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