'reduced into possession' isn't just worded for animals.

  1. 'reduce' here doesn't feel like ordinary meaning. What does it mean? I quote Etymonline because legalese can deceivingly use common words today but actually aim for some bygone meaning.

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  1. Why not just use 'possess'?

Herring, Criminal Law: Text, Cases, and Materials (8 edn, 2018). p. 493

Wild creatures

These are dealt with by section 4(4) of the Theft Act 1968, which provides:

Wild creatures, tamed or untamed, shall be regarded as property; but a person cannot steal a wild creature not tamed nor ordinarily kept in captivity, or the carcase of any such creature, unless either it has been reduced into possession [emboldening mine] by or on behalf of another person and possession of it has not since been lost or abandoned, or another person is in course of reducing it into possession.

The key distinction drawn in this section is between tamed creatures (e.g. pets), wild creatures kept in captivity (e.g. wild animals kept in a zoo) or reduced into possession (e.g. wild animals which have been trapped), and wild creatures not kept in captivity. Tame animals are treated as property and can be stolen. Similarly, wild animals kept in captivity or reduced into possession can be stolen.8 However, wild animals not kept in captivity are not property and cannot be stolen.


8 Cresswell v DPP [2006] EWHC 3379 (Admin) held that wild badgers were not property.

  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs on english.stackexchange.com – BlueDogRanch Sep 27 '19 at 21:26
  • 3
    This is a question about the legal effect of specifically legal terminology or jargon. It belongs here. The English language stack would not be as likely to properly deal with it. Indeed if it came up htere, i would vote to move it to law.se – David Siegel Sep 27 '19 at 23:22
  • @DavidSiegel thanks for having my back! – NNOX Apps Oct 24 '19 at 19:01

A thing that is not owned by anyone is said to be Res nullius (no person's thing). When a person captures, seizes, or takes into his or her possession such a thing, that person is said to "reduce it to possession". This refers to the act by which it becomes that person's legal property. Subsequently it is one of that person's possessions.

This phrase is an idiom and cannot be usefully analyzed by looking at the meanings of the individual words. Why it has the form it does is an historical question, which I cannot answer.

The phrase "reduce to possession" is also used for an act which converts a legal right into an asset. For example, a person who is owed a debt has a right to collect a sum of money, but does not have possession of that money, nor title to it. The act of paying the debt "reduces it to possession". So does the act of seizing collateral in satisfaction of the debt.

The English Larceny Act of 1916 reads, in part:

Provided that save as hereinafter expressly provided with respect to fixtures growing things, and ore from mines, anything attached to or forming part of the realty shall not be capable of being stolen by the person who severs the same from the realty, unless after severance he has abandoned possession thereof; and the carcase (sic) of a creature wild by nature and not reduced into possession while living shall not be capable of being stolen by the person who has killed such creature, unless after killing it he has abandoned possession of the carcase."


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