Robbery and the Principle
of Fair Labelling
Coventry University, UK
Robbery is a somewhat unusual offence in the sense that it combines two distinct wrongs: an
offence against property and an offence against the person. It is also a particularly broad
crime since it does not distinguish between different levels of force which might be used
against the person. Consequently, the defendant who uses a slight p ush in order to steal a bag
commitsthesameoffenceasamaskedgangwhoenters a bank while in possession of fire-
arms, making off with substantial amounts of cashintheprocess.Assuch,thecurrentdef-
inition of robbery conflicts with the principle of fair labelling which seeks to ensure that
crimes are defined to reflect their wrongfulness and severity. This article explores options to
reform robbery in order to bring it in line with the principle of fair labelling. Ultimately, it
threshold so that offences involving low levels of force cease to be regarded as robberies and
are instead treated as thefts.
Robbery, fair labelling, theft, proportionality, force
It is now 15 years since Andrew Ashworth wrote his seminal ‘Robbery Re-assessed’
in which he argued
that the offence of robbery is too broadly defined, calling for it to be recast in order to properly
distinguish between offences involving different levels of harm:
Where force or the threat of force is used in order to steal, the category of robbery covers everything from a
push or a raised hand in order to snatch a bag, to the most violent robbery of a security vehicle with guns fired
and so forth.
Gary Betts, Coventry Law School, Coventry University, Coventry CV1 5FB, UK.
1. A Ashworth, ‘Robbery Re-assessed’  Crim LR 851.
2. Ibid at 855.
The Journal of Criminal Law
2019, Vol. 83(3) 205–216
ªThe Author(s) 2019
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