What is Blackmail?


Blackmail is an offence under section 21 Theft Act 1968. It is a serious offence and is tried only in the Crown Court before a judge and a jury. The maximum penalty on conviction is 14 years’ imprisonment.



What do the prosecution have to prove?

For a successful prosecution, the following has to be proved:

  • That there was a demand made
  • That the demand was made with menaces
  • That the demand was unwarranted
  • That the person making the demand had a view to make a gain for himself or another or had intent to cause a loss to another




The Act specifically criminalises the making of a demand not the receiving of what was demanded.

The demand does not need to be explicit; it can be implied in language used or simply clear by its context that it is a demand.

The effect of the demand made is irrelevant. In fact, it can be made before the intended recipient is aware of it. For example if a demand is made in a letter the offence is committed on posting that letter. The same principle would extend to an unread e-mail or text message.




Menaces are serious or significant threats. The threats do not have to be of violence.

It does not have to be the same person making the demand who would carry out what was threatened. An example that is currently receiving a large amount of media attention is the publication or distribution of pornographic images of the subject or someone close to them. Such a threat would certainly be capable of being a 'menace'.




A demand with menaces is be regarded as unwarranted unless the person making the demand believes:

  • That they had reasonable grounds for making the demand; and
  • That the use of menaces was a proper means of reinforcing the demand.

The above is a subjective test of what the accused believes to be reasonable and proper. An accused could not argue that they believed the threat to be proper if the accused knows that, if carried out, it would amount to a criminal offence.



A view to make a gain or an intent to cause a loss

Gain can include keeping what one has and loss can include not getting what one might get. Gain and loss include only gain and loss of money or other property. Accordingly, demands for sexual favours or political advantage fall outside the remit of blackmail.

The above is a very basic outline of the offence of Blackmail but in many circumstances the offence can be both legally and factually extremely complex. If you are accused of Blackmail it is essential that you gain immediate specialist legal advice.


Quentin Hunt is extremely experienced criminal counsel who has significant expertise in cases of Blackmail. If you find yourself accused of such an offence contact Quentin for specialist legal advice.

POSTED: Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Categories:  CRIME,   FAQs