Although the definition of trespassing can vary from a civil to a criminal offence depending on the where the act of trespassing takes place, the basic definition of the legal term remains the same. Trespassing is the legal concept of intruding on another person’s property that you do not have permission to be on.
In general, in the criminal sense of the legal word when you trespass to land you may possibly face a tort liability or a criminal charge. However, for the most part throughout Wales and England if you are on land that has a notice posted that trespassers will be prosecuted you will only be in danger of a civil liability unless there is significant grounds for an aggravated trespassing charge.
Outside of land trespasses, there are additional legal torts for trespass to the person and trespass to chattels but these also have broad definitions and the severity of the legal consequences can vary from case to case. A large portion of the decision of where your trespass will fall in severity has to do with your alleged attention while trespassing, with a far higher chance of prosecution if you have criminal motives.
Although trespassing is no longer considered a criminal offence for the most part in England, up until 1694 trespassing was considered a criminal offence with a fine issued for the breach of peace. Now the only cases in England when trespassing is considered a criminal offence is when there is statutory enactment also present such as a combination of trespassing and forcible entry, or being on dangerous ground such as railway properties.
Trespassing laws are not only applicable to humans, but also to any animals that they may be responsible for. For example, dogs or cattle that stray into another person’s land can result in an owner being fined for animal trespassing although this is also a civil offence. Additionally, placing an object on land that you do not have the permission to do so is also a legal civil offence called an act of trespass.
The term trespassing can also be used to describe assault and battery to another person, defined as a trespass against the person. There are tort actions that are applicable in these situations as well and many times this type of trespass is a criminal offence over a civil offence.
When a contract is breached in certain circumstances it also is termed a trespass on the case and tried in common law courts. Additionally, using a computer system that you do not have authorized access to such as in the case of hackers can also is defined as a type of trespass that is a punishable tort.