Oxford v Moss

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Oxford v Moss
Court Divisional Court, Queens Bench Division
Decided 1979
Citation(s) (1979) 68 Cr App Rep 183
[1979] Crim LR 119
Cases cited Peter Pan Manufacturing Corporation v. Corsets Silhouette ltd. [1963] 3 All E.R. 402
Seager v. Copydex Ltd. [1967] 2 All E.R. 415
Argyll v. Argyll [1965] 2 W.L.R. 790
Fraser v. Evans [1968] 3 W.L.R. 1172
Legislation cited Theft Act 1968, Section 4
Case history
Prior action(s) Police v Oxford, Liverpool Magistrates Court
Subsequent action(s) None
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Smith & Wein, JJ.
Theft; information; intangible property

Oxford v Moss (1979) 68 Cr App Rep 183 is an English criminal law case, dealing with theft, intangible property and information. The court ruled that information could not be deemed to be intangible property and therefore was incapable of being stolen within the Theft Act 1968.


The defendant, Moss, was a University student and managed to obtain a proof copy of his forthcoming exam paper. It was accepted that he always intended to return the proof itself, and therefore could not be convicted of theft of the proof itself, however he was charged with stealing information belonging to the Senate of the University.

The case was heard by the Liverpool Stipendiary Magistrate, and it was argued by the prosecution that the information itself was property capable of being stolen because it had attached to it a proprietary right of confidence, and once this was breached, the information itself had been stolen. It was argued by the defence that Section 4 of the Theft Act 1968 did not define a class of intangible property beyond a chose in action, and therefore information per se was not protected by the Theft Act 1968.

The magistrate ruled that confidential information was not a form of property as defined by Section 4, and that confidence consisted in the right to control the publication of the proof and was a right over property rather than property in itself.


The Divisional Court considered whether confidential information falls within the definition contained in s4(1) of the Theft Act, and were referred to a number of authorities dealing with trade secrets and matrimonial secrets. It was said that although those cases dealt with confidentiality, the appropriate remedies for breach had been injunction or damages rather than criminal penalties. The conclusion was drawn that the definition of "intangible property" was not broad enough to include confidential information, and the prosecutor's appeal was dismissed.

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