This question is prompted by two cases:

  • Richard Barnard was charged with conspiracy to blackmail after saying he would go on a hunger strike against LaSalle Investment Management, the company from which Elbit Systems [Israeli arms company] rents its London office building, unless it evicted the arms manufacturer.
  • Compound Labs said they would dox recipients of their erroneous payout who did not repay 90% of said payout.

At first glance it would appear that both these are fairly similar, where an entity says they will take some legitimate action if another party does not take some other legal action. If is established where the line is between such a statement being a legal statement of intent and an illegal threat or blackmail?

  • Going on hunger strike or doxing someone are not "legal actions". In the case of blackmail, the [illegal] threat is the crime (as long as it is made as "do this or else I do that"). Wikipedia actually lays out the UK version rather clearly en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackmail#Construction Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 13:58
  • and obviously "The law considers a "demand with menaces" to always be "unwarranted" (unjustified), unless the perpetrator actually believed that his/her demand had reasonable grounds, and also actually believed that the menace was a proper way to reinforce that demand. [...] Additionally, a statement that would not usually coerce or pressure someone may still be a "menace", if the perpetrator knew, believed, or expected that their specific victim would feel coerced or pressured by it." Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 14:00
  • Thanks, I used the wrong word there. I guess "legitimate action" would be better.
    – Dave
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 14:01

1 Answer 1


When does a threat become a crime?

Short Answer:

When it is an unreasonable request (i.e. a demand) that is unjustified in the circumstances (i.e. unwarranted) in order for someone to gain or lose something.

Long Answer:

I will only offer a general answer according to UK law as there is insufficient information in the Richard Barnard link (presumably as it sub-judice and not all the facts are in the public domain) and the Compound Labs case seems to be American.

The laws on blackmail may be found variously at:

(1) A person is guilty of blackmail if, with a view to gain for himself or another or with intent to cause loss to another, he makes any unwarranted demand with menaces; and for this purpose a demand with menaces is unwarranted unless the person making it does so in the belief—

  • (a) that he has reasonable grounds for making the demand; and

  • (b) that the use of the menaces is a proper means of reinforcing the demand.

(2) The nature of the act or omission demanded is immaterial, and it is also immaterial whether the menaces relate to action to be taken by the person making the demand.

(3) A person guilty of blackmail shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

...using threat of harm to demand money, property or some advantage from another person. It does not matter whether the demand itself is legitimate (such as for money owed) as the crime can still be committed when illegitimate threats of harm are used.

Ultimately it will be for the jury to decide each particular case after considering all the facts and circumstances whether a defendant's actions are reasonable and justified or not, but the following case law gives clarity on some definitions:

I think the word 'menace' is to be liberally construed and not as limited to threats of violence but as including threats of any action detrimental to or unpleasant to the person addressed. It may also include a warning that in certain events such action is intended. [Lord Wright]

... no act which was not believed to be lawful could be believed to be proper within the meaning of the subsection. [Bingham J]

A very simplistic (and facile) way of putting it is that if you don't pay your bill the Gas Board can cut off your supply but they can't cut off your head.

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