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I left my heart in San Francisco

The theft of the remains of a human heart in Argentina is reported.

If the event had happened in Britain or Ireland it might raise some thorny questions of law.
In Ireland the ostensible relevant offence would be Section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud) Act 2001, which provides:

4. —(1) Subject to section 5 , a person is guilty of theft if he or she dishonestly appropriates property without the consent of its owner and with the intention of depriving its owner of it.

The Act defines property:

“propertyâ€? means money and all other property, real or personal, including things in action and other intangible property;

At common law there is not, and never was, a property in a human body. In the UK it is possible, apparently for property to subsist in part of a human body that being, allegedly, a consequence of the provisions of Section 4 of the Theft Act 1968 in the UK, on the grounds set out in R v Kelly [1999] QB 621 where a judge stated:

To address the point as it was addressed before the trial judge and to which his certificate relates, in our judgment, parts of a corpse are capable of being property within section 4 of the Theft Act 1968 if they have acquired different attributes by virtue of the application of skill, such as dissection or preservation techniques for exhibition or teaching purposes, see Doodeward v Spence 6CLR 406, 413, 414 in the judgment of Griffith C.J. to which we have already referred and Dobson v North Tyneside Health Authority [1997] 1WLR 596, 601 where this proposition is not dissented from and appears in the judgment of this court to have been accepted by Peter Gibson LJ; otherwise, his analysis of the facts of Dobson’s case, which appears at that page in the judgment, would have been, as it seems to us, otiose.”

And also:

We accept that however questionable the historical origins of the principle, it has now been common law for 150 years at least that neither a corpse nor parts of corpse are in themselves and without more capable of being property protected by rights: see for example, Erle J, delivering the judgment of a powerful Court for Crown Cases Reserved in Reg. v Sharpe [1857] Dears. & B. 160, 163, where he said: “Our law recognises no property in a corpse, and the protection of the grave at common law as contradistinguished from ecclesiastic protection to consecrated ground depends on this form of indictment.” He was there referring to an indictment which charged not theft of a corpse but removal of a corpse from a grave.â€?

In AB & Anor. v Leeds Teaching Hospital & Ors [2004] EWHC 644 (QB)
the court referred to Clerk & Lindsell on Torts 18th Edition and quoted it as follows:

Dead Bodies and Human Tissue

There is no property in a corpse. (However, personal representatives or other persons charged with the duty of burying a body have a right to its custody and possession in the interim, infringements of which are actionable, and by statute those representatives also have certain powers in relation to the use of a body for medical purposes.) On the other hand once a body has undergone a process or other application of human skill, such as stuffing or embalming, it can it seems be the subject of property in the ordinary way. And the same goes for body parts: thus in the grisly case of R v Kelly robbers who abstracted and sold preserved specimens from the Royal College of Surgeons’ collection were held rightly convicted of theft. It is an open question whether there can be property in bodies and body parts which have not been subject to any such process, but are legitimately wanted for some other purpose, such as accident investigation or use as an exhibit in court. … In so far as there can be property in corpses or parts thereof, presumably it will vest initially in person carrying out the stuffing or embalming process, or taking steps for their preservation, on the basis that he is the first possessor.”

The issues were adverted to by the Irish High Court in O’Connor & Anor v. Lenihan [2005] IEHC 176 (9 June 2005)

In facts not very dissimilar to those in AB v Leeds (see above) the Plaintiff claimed, inter alia, for Bailment, Conversion, Detinue and Trespass but as the judge remarked

The remaining claims are not being pursued by the plaintiffs and there is no need to address them in this judgment�

Currently there is no reported case on Section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud) Act 2001 as to whether the section extends to parts of a human corpse as, reportedly, Section 4 of the Theft Act 1968 does.

In AB & Anor. v Leeds Teaching Hospital & Ors [2004] EWHC 644 (QB) the judge stated:

But in the absence of such a cause of action in respect of the body of a deceased person being recognised by an English court I am not prepared to hold that one does exist.

Given the statement of the head of the monastery from which the heart was stolen, – “The theft was carried out because of the heart – nothing else was stolen,” – it would be very doubtful if the “theftâ€? would be chargeable in Ireland and, possibly, in Britain,