What is Malicious Damage to Property?

Section 339(1) of the Penal Code provides that:

“Any person who wilfully and unlawfully destroys or damages any property is guilty of an offence, which, unless otherwise stated, is a misdemeanour, and is liable, if no other punishment is provided, to imprisonment for five years.”

Wekesa was recently charged and convicted on malicious damage to property. His charge sheet read, in part that on a date last month, Wekesa wilfully and unlawfully destroyed household materials belonging to his neighbour, Nsubuga. Wekesa maintained that he never maliciously destroyed his neighbour’s property.

In every case of malicious damage property, the issue before court is whether the destruction was an accident or whether there was an intention to destroy or damage property.

What is malicious damage to property?

Malicious damage to property is the unlawful and intentional damaging of property that belongs to another person. It is a crime across all East Africa states and it is punishable by imprisonment or a fine or both.

The damage must be to something physical, like a car, a house, a pet, livestock, furniture, etc. The damage must be real, and it must result in financial loss. If the damage is trivial, then the court will not convict the accused. Damage is considered trivial if the action does not result in result in financial loss. Examples of trivial damage are: using a water hose, someone sprays water all over your car, your neighbour trims your part of your fence as he trims his, etc.

There are other crimes and torts with which an accused can be charged in instances where damage is not financial. For example, the charge of emotional distress does not require that the complainant to prove financial loss.

Also, the damage must be wilful. It must be intentional. If the damage is accidental, then the charge of malicious damage to property fails. Further, if something is due to negligence like a car accident then such a person cannot be charged with malicious damage to property because there was no intention. If a man shoots a dog attacking his live stock on his land, he cannot be held liable, because he has a right to defend his property on his land.

If you have any questions, please get tin touch with us.

This article was written by our Law Review Columnist, Samali Bitala for our weekly law newsletter, The Deuteronomy. To contact Samali, write to her on samali@bitalaadvocates.com. To receive The Deuteronomy in real time, click HERE.

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