Legal Definition of an Arson Offence in New South Wales
You can be sentenced to 14 years in prison in New South Wales (NSW) for intentionally starting a fire and letting it spread. Manslaughter or murder charges can be brought against someone who started the fire if someone died, attracting a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison.
An arson or bushfire usually damages significant property and kills or harms animals. Arson is considered to be a very serious offence. A non-conviction order is unlikely to be granted in arson cases because the offence is so serious that imprisonment is often the first step in punishment.
As defined in the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), arson is the malicious destruction or vandalism of property using fire or explosives. The term is implied rather than explicitly defined in the Act.
It is important to understand that if you are suspected of arson, you will be charged based on the type of offense you committed. Arson is defined as four different violations under the Crimes Act 1900.
- Destroy or vandalise property
It is an offence under Section 195 of the Crimes Act for an individual to knowingly or recklessly destroy or vandalise the property of another. An accused may be jailed for up to ten years for fire damage, and an accomplice may be sentenced to 11 years if the damage occurred as a result of a fire.
The defendant could receive a maximum punishment of seven years in prison if the offense occurred during a time of public disorder such as violent protests and riots. If explosives were used, the maximum punishment would be thirteen years in prison.
- Intend to cause injury
In accordance with Section 196 of the Crimes Act, if an individual vandalises or destroys property with the intention of causing bodily harm to another individual, they will be guilty of an offence. The defendant faces a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison if the prosecution proves that the damage was caused by the fire. If the offense occurred during a public disorder, the maximum sentence is 16 years.
- Dishonestly destroy or vandalise property
The Crimes Act prohibits individuals from knowingly and dishonestly destroying and defacing property through fire if the individuals do so knowingly and dishonestly. As a result of the Act, a maximum sentence of 14 years is available, or 16 years if the offence occurs during a public disorder. The Act also provides provisions for damage intentionally caused to commit insurance fraud.
- Intend to endanger life
In New South Wales, it is an offence to start a fire to risk the lives of others, as defined in Section 198 of the Crimes Act. It carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison if found guilty. The accused may be charged with manslaughter if a life is lost as a result of arson.
Legal Definition of a Bushfire Offence in New South Wales
According to Section 203E (of the Crimes Act 1900), intentionally starting a bushfire and not monitoring its progress constitutes a crime:
If a person is careless in spreading a fire on private or public property, they commit a crime.
A bushfire can involve:
- Lighting a fire,
- Maintaining a fire,
- Failure to extinguish a fire, even when it was started by someone else or when it has become out of control.
A law passed by the New South Wales legislature in 2018 increased the maximum sentence for causing wildfires from 14 years to 21 years.
Nevertheless, a defendant may be able to overcome an arson charge by providing legal excuses such as being instructed by a firefighter to start the fire, being employed by a firefighter, or initiating the fire during hazard reduction operations. Wildfires are often deadly and distrustful, which is why defendants may face a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.
Penalties for causing bushfires
According to Section 100(1) of the Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW) that outlines the offence of knowingly starting fires, a defendant can face a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and or a fine of $11,000 for any individual “who without lawful authority ”:
- Sets fire or causes fire to be set to the land or property of another person, the Crown, or any public authority”;
- Being the occupier or owner of any land permits fire to escape from the land under such situations as to cause (or be likely to cause) injury or damage to the person, land, or property of another person or the land or property of the Crown or a public authority.
As specified in the Crimes Act statuses, causing a fire during a total fire ban will be considered aggravating during sentencing, and any person who commits the offence while aware that there is a total fire ban will be sentenced to seven years in jail or $120,000 in fine.
Fires that are left unattended or that are not extinguished completely may result in a maximum penalty of 12 months in prison and $5,500 in fines. An individual may be charged with manslaughter or other serious crimes if the defendant intentionally ignites a wildfire that leads to the death of an individual.
Common reasons for Committing arson
As a first step, remember that human behavior cannot always be categorised. Limits are established by a variety of factors that are usually at work in any given situation. For example, labeling an offender as a “crime concealment” arsonist may be misleading. As well as other factors in their mind, “animosity” is always in play.
According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, the following are the most frequent reasons for arson:
In most cases, fire is used maliciously to damage property, and this is the main reason for an arson attack.
Mentally ill individuals often start fires as a form of thrill-seeking activity. These fires may be caused by structural property or bushfires.
This type of arson can cause death since it has a specific target, and it can also be used as retaliation for a perceived or actual injustice.
- Crime Concealment
A person tries to conceal another type of crime by burning all evidence that can be used against them.
Arson can be committed for a variety of reasons, including insurance claims and monetary gains as well as intimidation and elimination of competitors.
Political, religious, and social instances are most likely to be affected. Extremist arsons are classified as terrorism, civil disturbance, or riots. These attacks are highly organized, and they can take time to acquire the right target. Such attacks may involve individuals starting fires to advance their ideologies.
Possible defences for an Arson Offences
In order to overcome the charges of arson, the defendant may have to demonstrate that they had legal reasons for committing their crimes. In addition, they may assert that they did not knowingly commence a fire that resulted in structural arson or bushfire arson, as part of their defense. Prosecutors must demonstrate that the elements of arson apply to the defendant’s case in order to successfully convict a defendant of arson.
Defendants may walk out of court if even one element of the prosecution’s case is not proved beyond a reasonable doubt. To successfully punish a suspected arsonist, the prosecution must prove each of these arson elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- In accordance with New South Wales law, was the property vandalized or destroyed by fire?
- Is it possible to classify all the items that have been damaged or destroyed as property?
- When property is destroyed, does the loss fall solely on the accused or does it also affect another individual?
- An arsonist’s intention must be proven by the prosecution team
- Could the defendant have believed that they had permission to vandalize or destroy the property from the owner?
It is an offence under the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) to deliberately start a fire and not take into account whether or not it might spread to private property, public land, or vegetation.
In New South Wales, arson-related crimes carry heavy sentences. As a result of the rise in arson-related crimes, resulting in an annual loss of millions, Parliament intends to continue increasing the maximum sentence beyond the current 21-year sentence.
There are a number of challenges facing the prosecution of suspected arsonists that the government is seeking to overcome.
Upon conviction for arson, the offence will appear on the individual’s Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check as a disclosable court outcome (DCO).