Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Forgery Definition:

The making of a false document knowing it to be false with intent that it should be used or acted on as genuine to the prejudice of another.

The term is a construction of criminal law and as such is limited to the precise definition of the criminal statute in each jurisdiction.

The common law struggled with a cohesive definition of forgery prompting Edward Coke (1522-1634), in his 1628 Institutes of the Lawes of England, to remark that the term had been:

"... taken metaphorically from the smith, who beateth upon his anvil and forgeth what fashion and shape he will."

On page 247 of Book 4 of his Commentaries on the Laws of England, William Blackstone wrote of forgery:

"It may be ... defined at common law to be the fraudulent making or alteration of a writing to the prejudice of another man's right.

"It is not necessary that the whole instrument should be fictitious. Making a fraudulent insertion, alteration or erasure in any material part of a true document by which another may be defrauded ... are forgeries."

In the 1796 English case at Old Bailey, R v Crossley, it was stated that:

"The crime of forgery is one that is destructive of all security of property, and which tears up by the roots, the confidence necessary to be placed in solemn legal instruments; in short, leads to every kind of plunder, and is therefore justly estimated, by the law, the highest order of crimes that can be committed in a state of civilized society, and punished with death."

The 1913 Forgery Act of England defined forgery as:

".. the making of a false document in order that it may be used as genuine."

The Criminal Code of Canada completely codifies and sets out the action(s) that constitute the offence of forgery:

"Every one commits forgery who makes a false document, knowing it to be false, with intent that it should in any way be used or acted on as genuine, to the prejudice of any one whether within Canada or not; or that a person should be induced, by the belief that it is genuine, to do or to refrain from doing anything, whether within Canada or not.

"Making a false document includes altering a genuine document in any material part; making a material addition to a genuine document or adding to it a false date, attestation, seal or other thing that is material; or making a material alteration in a genuine document by erasure, obliteration, removal or in any other way.

"Forgery is complete as soon as a document is made with the knowledge and intent referred to (above), notwithstanding that the person who makes it does not intend that any particular person should use or act on it as genuine or be induced, by the belief that it is genuine, to do or refrain from doing anything.

"Forgery is complete notwithstanding that the false document is incomplete or does not purport to be a document that is binding in law, if it is such as to indicate that it was intended to be acted on as genuine."

In a 1919 Canadian (Alberta) case, R v X, Justice Winter wrote:

"It is not every spurious writing, purporting to be genuine, which may be properly the subject of an indictment for forgery. The general rule is that any writing which may be the means of defrauding another, or which if genuine would operate as the foundation of another's liability or which by deceiving another would tend to injure another, may be the subject of an indictment for forgery."


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