Monday, January 11, 2010


Yes, I'm belatedly excited about the snow. Custody vans not going anywhere, videolinks becoming very necessary, courts closing because there's no heating in the cells, the whole country does indeed grind to a halt whenever we get snow. But at least it's proper snow this time. There was even a snowman outside one police station. I wish I could say it was still there.

Starter for ten: is it criminal damage to destroy a snowman?

This particular snowman was built by another person, on public land, with snow that fell on public land. The snowman does not constitute a nuisance or danger, as the considerate builder has located it out of the way of what little passing traffic there is. We can assume the planner inspectors won't be troubling Frosty either.

Answers on a postcard, in the DX, or in the comments section. I'd love to say there'd be a prize, but I just don't care that much.


  1. in real legal terms

    You actually have no right to even build a snowman on or in a puble space aka planning permission would not be granted.

    If you build on your own land you CAN build a snowman upto approx 6 foot, once over this size even though technically it is not a permanent structure you should again seek permission to build probably 12 foot could obscure your next door neighbours view.

    A person could not enter your private land and knock over the structure and criminal damage would be possible, but i think would have to be a 2nd level damage ie. they knock down the snowman and it damages your front door window.

  2. A snowman is a temporary erection and therefore exempt from planning issues.

    I feel that case law from kicking over sand castles should be applied here. Of course I have no idea what that law says, but I suspect your right to build a snowman is exactly offset by someone else's right to knock it over.

  3. What about "Action likely to lead to a Breach of the Peace"?
    Or does this crime no longer exist?

  4. Bet they got the idea to kick the snowman to death from "popular" broadcasting media - Big Brother. All those poor abused snowmen.

  5. Criminal Damage Act 1971 S1: A person who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another intending to destroy or damage any such property or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged shall be guilty of an offence.

    Damaged or Destroyed? Yep clearly kicking it over is damaging it.

    Lawful Authority? Given your example excludes the obvious obstruction argument I assume that the hypothetical vandal has no such authority. However there may be an argument that he/she believed that the person would have consented in the circumstances and that would amount to a lawful excuse (paraphrasing S5(2))

    Deliberate or reckless? Also seems implicit from your example.

    Property? Hmmm: Wild mushrooms are not property but cultivated plants are. As are tamed or domesticated animals. Also given that a diamond is basically only something provided natuarally that you dug up... Yep it does seem to be property.

    Belonging to another? Custody or Control over it? nope they left it at the side of the road to melt. having proprietry right or interest? Nope as above I don't think they do. Having charge of it? No again. -

    So almost there except that the snowman doesn't seem to belong to anyone. Also means that if you melt it with your lighter it isn't arson. ;-D

  6. It is on property that I think Crim Dam hits the rocks! The snow was, surely, res nullius? I do not think that by taking the ownerless snow and building it into a statue, the unknown builder asserted ownership? Quaere whether if he'd gathered it on Blackacre, and built his snowman on Greenacre he might have reduced it into possession? I think that the snowman was never property, and accordingly cannot be damaged within the meaning of the Act.

  7. our snowman was stolen. not a trace remained behind, just a bare space where a 5ft high 3ft wide compacted snow person stood. We miss him/her already

  8. Brilliant replies all, thank you very much. Honourable mention to Ladykis for making spray Earl Gray over the keyboard. However, I'd lean towards the res nullius answer, with precipitation over public land possibly vesting in the Crown. A trick question, obviously, being concerned with public law, in which I scraped a bare pass. The actual answer is: it is quite clearly not in the public interest to prosecute such an incident, and the policeman should have left me well alone.