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Ho-ho-home invasion? A legal look at Santa and trespassing laws

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 19 December 2014
  2. Housing
  3. 0 comments
Santa Claus

Every year, Father Christmas takes it upon himself to squeeze down the chimneys of the world and deliver gifts to all the good little girls and boys. But with all the hustle and bustle of the festive season, it’s easy to lose sight of the important things – like whether or not the benevolent bearded one is technically trespassing, and, if so, whether you could bring legal action against him for his chimney-clambering criminality.

One of the first things to note if you awake to the sound of reindeer on your rooftop is that trespass in itself is not a criminal offence, so the police won’t be nicking Old St. Nick any time soon. Trespassing is instead a civil offence, meaning you would have to take Kringle to court to make a claim – and you’d be unlikely to win anything substantial unless he’d caused significant damage to your property, which is an unlikely scenario for such an seasoned rooftop rambler.

Even if you did decide to drag the red-suited ruffian into court, you should remember that one of the defences to trespassing is that the purported trespasser was given “licence to enter”, meaning they had permission from the property owner to access their land. What’s more, this need not be a written contract or anything of the sort, but can simply take the form of “implied licence”. No doubt Santa’s skilled law elves would argue that having your children write to him pleading for gifts, not to mention leaving out brandy and a mince pie to coax him in, set out a clear intent on your part to allow him access to your home. And if you went so far as to put out a sign entreating “Santa, please stop here”, his legal team would be laughing all the way.

Regardless of whether or not you feel the jolly old elf has trampled over your property boundaries by propelling his rotund form through your flue, you should bear in mind that you can use only reasonable force to eject him if you should catch him in your house. With a benevolent old soul like Claus, no doubt a stern look and a well-enunciated “Bah, humbug!” will be enough to send him scuttling back up the chimney, a look of concern on his rosy features. You also owe a duty of care even to trespassers and cannot set out to cause harm to them – so if your children are thinking about putting together a Santa trap, it might be a good idea to sit them down and give them a basic primer on the English legal system.

So there you have it – Father Christmas won’t be ending up on the naughty list any time soon, at least not for trespassing. Whether or not his year-round observation of children’s behaviour constitutes an indefensible breach of privacy is, perhaps, an issue for another time.

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