Ministers are being urged by the Association of Convenience Stores to explain to MPs how proposals contained in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Policing and Crime Bill will not lead to fewer prosecutions of shop theft offences.

The Bill, which will be debated by MPs for the first time today, contains a clause (clause 133) that seeks to change the status of any shop theft where the value of goods stolen amounts to less than £200 to a ‘summary’ offence; thereby removing the prospect of the case being heard in Crown Court.

The ACS has explained that if passed, this change in the law would mean that shop theft offences would be dealt with in the same way as many road traffic offences. Shop theft cases (below £200) could only be referred to a Magistrates Court and the processing would be handled by the Police without the involvement of the Crown Prosecution Service.

The proposal has left retailers concerned that it will lead to a reduction in the number of shop theft cases that will be dealt with by the courts and an overall reduction in the perceived seriousness of the crime.

James Lowman, ACS chief executive, said: “Shop theft is a serious crime, usually perpetrated by repeat offenders, and must be taken seriously by the judicial system.

“We are very concerned that this significant change in the law has been brought forward at the last minute without thorough consultation with retailers. We are seeking urgent reassurances from Ministers that this clause will not lead to a reduction in the number of shop theft offences presented to Court.

“We are asking MPs to make clear their opposition to any change in the law that reduces the perceived seriousness of shop theft.”