Blackmail

The offence of blackmail has four elements:

  • a demand
  • made with menaces
  • which is unwarranted and
  • is made for gain to the defendant or loss to another.

The demand can be express or implied, in writing, speech, or by conduct. It is irrelevant whether the person making the threat has the intention or the power to carry it out. If the demand is implicit, the demeanour [of the maker] and the circumstances of the case must make it clear to an ordinary and reasonable man that a demand was being made of him.

There is no precise definition of menace, but the word is to be liberally construed not limited to threats of violence but including threats of any action detrimental to or unpleasant to the person addressed. Conduct that amounts to menacing pressure may suffice. Note that a threat to do something which the person is lawfully entitled to do, if it is menacing in character and done for gain/loss, may still be blackmail, for example, threatening to report some one to the police unless they pay money.

Any demand made with menaces is unwarranted unless the person has reasonable grounds for making the demand and the use of menaces is a proper means for making the demand. The person must have a genuine belief that the use of menaces was proper in the circumstances.

Thorne v Motor Trade Association [1937] A.C. 797 was a case of a warranted demand. T. was engaged in price fixing in violation of the rules of the Trade Association. He was offered the option of paying a fine as an alternative to being placed on a stop list. It was held that the Trade Association had a right to place the trader on the stop list and also had a right to demand money as an alternative. Had the fine been levelled at an extortionate rate the, position may well have been different.

The gain need not be financial, it may be the doing or not doing of an action by the victim. There is no need to prove a financial motivation and the gain or loss need not be permanent.

A person convicted of blackmail shall be liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 14 years. The offence of Blackmail can only be dealt with in the Crown Court.

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