1902 Encyclopedia > Forgery


FORGERY, in English law, is defined as " the fraudulent making or alteration of a writing to the prejudice of another man's right," or " as the false making, or making malo animo, of any written instrument for the purpose of fraud or deceit." This definition, it will be seen, com-prehends all fraudulent tampering with documents. " Not only the fabrication and false making of the whole of a written instrument, but a fraudulent insertion, alteration, or erasure, even of a letter, in any material part of a true instrument whereby a new operation is given to it, will amount to forgery,—and this though it be afterwards executed by another person ignorant of the deceit" (Russell on Crimes and Misdemeanours, vol. ii. p. 619). Changing the word Dale into Sale in a lease, so that it appears to be a lease of the manor of Sale instead of the manor of Dale, is a forgery. And when a country banker's note was made payable at the house of a banker in London who failed, it was held to be forgery to alter the name of such London banker to that of another London banker with whom the country banker had subsequently made his notes payable. As to the fraud, " an intent to defraud is presumed to exist if it appears that at the time when the false document was made there was in existence a specific person, ascertained or unascertained, capable of being-defrauded thereby; and this presumption is not rebutted by proof that the offender took or intended to take measures to prevent such person from being defrauded in fact, nor by the fact that he had or thought he had a right to the thing to be obtained by the false document" (Stephen's Digest of the Criminal Law, c. 43). Thus when a man makes a false acceptance to a bill of exchange, and circulates it, intending to take it up and actually taking it up before it is presented for payment, lie is guilty of forgery. Even if it be proved as a matter of fact that no person could be defrauded (as when A forges a cheque in B's name on a bank from which B had withdrawn his account), the intent to defraud will be presumed. But it would appear that if A knew that B had withdrawn his account, the absence of fraudulent intention would be inferred. A general intention to cheat the public is not the kind of fraud necessary to constitute forgery. Thus if a quack forges a diploma of the college of surgeons, in order to make people believe that he is a member of that body, he is not guilty of forgery. The crime of forgery in English law has been from time to time dealt with in an enormous number of statutes. " Mr Hammond, in the title Forgery of his Criminal Code, has enumerated more than 400 statutes which contain provisions against the offence " (Sir J. T. Coleridge's notes to Blackstone). Blackstone notices the increasing severity of the legislature against forgery, and says that " through the number of these general and special provisions there is now hardly a case possible to be conceived wherein forgery that tends to defraud, whether in the name of a real or fictitious person, is not made a capital crime." These Acts were consolidated by 1 Will. IV. c. 66, now repealed. The later statutes, fixing penalties from penal servitude for life downwards, were consolidated by the 24 and 25 Vict. c. 98 (the Forgery Act). It would take too much space to enumerate all the varieties of the offence with their appropriate punishments. The following condensed summary is based upon chapter xxiv. of Sir J. Stephen's Digest of the Criminal Law.

1. Forgeries punishable with penal servitude for life as a maximum are—
(a) Forgeries of the Great Seal, Privy Seal, &c.
(b) Forgeries of transfers of stock, India bonds, exchequer bills, bank-notes, deeds, wills, bills of exchange, &c.
(c) Obliterations or alterations of crossing on a cheque.
(d) Forgeries of registers of birth, &c., or of copies thereof and others.

2. Forgeries punishable with fourteen years penal servitude are—
(a) Forgeries of debentures.
(b) Forgeries of documents relating to the registering of deeds, &c.
(c) Forgeries of instruments purporting to be made by the accountant general and other officers of the Court of Chancery, &c.
(d) Drawing bill of exchange, &c, on account of another, per procuration or otherwise, without authority.
(e) Obtaining property by means of a forged instrument, knowing it to be forged, or by probate obtained on a forged will, false oath, &c.

3. Forgeries punishable with seven years' penal servitude :—
Forgeries of seals of courts, of the process of courts, of certificates, and of documents to be used in evidence, &c.

Forgery of trade marks is a misdemeanour punishable with two years' imprisonment. (E. R.)

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