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Intentionally Causing a Bushfire

In New South Wales, intentionally causing a bushfire and being reckless to it spreading is an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment, however, if a person dies as a result of a bushfire, the perpetrator may be charged with murder or manslaughter which can carry a maximum penalty of up to 25 years imprisonment.

This offence is taken very seriously by the Courts. Bushfires inevitably cause significant damage to property and often result in the death or injury of wildlife. Due to the seriousness of the offence, the starting point in sentencing will often be a sentence of imprisonment. It is extremely unlikely that a person will receive a section 10 non conviction order for this offence.

The Offence of Causing a Bushfire

The offence of causing a bushfire and being reckless to it spreading is contained in section 203E of the Crimes Act 1900 which states:

A person:

  • Who intentionally causes a fire, and
  • Who is reckless as to the spread of the fire to vegetation on any public land or on land belonging to another

Is guilty of an offence.

What Actions Might Constitute Causing a Bushfire?

Causing a fire includes:

  • Lighting a fire, or
  • Maintaining a fire, and
  • Failing to contain a fire, except where the fire was lit by another person or the fire is beyond the control of the person who lit the fire.

What the Police Must Prove

To convict you of a causing a bushfire and being reckless to its spread, the police must prove each of the following matters beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You intentionally caused a fire
  • You were reckless as to the spread of the fire to vegetation on any public land or on land belonging to another

However, recklessness as to the spread of the fire can be established simply by proof of intention.

An alternate verdict is also available to a Jury. This means that if you are not found guilty of a Fire Starting charge, the jury could then consider whether you are guilty of an offence against section 100 of the Rural Fires Act 1997.

Possible Defences for Causing a Bushfire:

Possible defences to a causing a bushfire include but are not limited to:

  • Duress;
  • Immature age;
  • Accident;
  • That the accused was a firefighter or was acting under direction of a firefighter and caused the fire in the course of bushfire fighting or hazard reduction.

Which court will hear the matter?

This matter is a Table 1 offence which means that either the DPP or an accused can elect to have the matter dealt with in the District Court. If no election is made it will be dealt with in the Local Court.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Michelle Makela

This article was written by Michelle Makela

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (State and Federal Industrial Tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

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