Graffiti is not defined as a crime in the same way that vandalism is. The crime of vandalism is defined more broadly as any unlawful destruction of property, including a building or other structure. Graffiti can therefore encompass almost any activity that does not fit into the categories of vandalism.
The crime of a public order offence – this is the offence under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000 – was introduced in 2004 and covers the actions of individuals who cause other people distress, alarm or fear by causing nuisance, damage or destruction of property.
When is graffiti not a crime?
There are instances when graffiti is not a criminal offence. These range from the act or acts of a private individual – such as writing on a door, wall, railway signpost or fence – to professional graffiti artists – such as those that work to create street art – which are not covered under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000.
To be a graffiti artist in England and Wales you must be registered with the police – but you do not need to be registered to paint graffiti.
In Scotland, graffiti is a misdemeanor offence, and not covered by the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000. However graffiti is a crime under a variety of Scotland Acts:
the Public Order Act 1976
the Scotland Act 1998
the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1990
the Offences Against the Person Act 1766
the Scotland (Graffiti) Act 1999
the Scotland (Offences Against The Environment) Act 1999
The Criminal Justice Act 1993
If graffiti is a public order offence – which is what it is in England and Wales and what it is under the Protection of the Environment Act 1978 – it must be charged with an offence, even if not prosecuted. Graffiti will typically be charged with this offence or a similar one such as the public order offence, and if convicted, could be fined and/or imprisoned.
What are graffiti offenders?
Graffiti offenders may include:
individuals who use graffiti to write messages on the exterior of buildings
individuals who paint graffiti on an object such as a city wall or railway signpost
individuals who commit graffiti acts within other public places but are not registered graffiti artists
Graffiti offenders may also include other graffiti artists and those who commit graffiti acts in places such as museums, universities, libraries or tourist areas, or when writing in public parks, in areas such as the streets outside the Houses of Parliament, etc.
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