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Improper Use of Emergency Call Service

It is a Commonwealth offence to improperly use emergency call services. This may be by making a hoax call, or to falsely report an emergency or it may be making numerous calls without an adequate basis. The offence of improper use of emergency call service is contained in section 474.18 of the Criminal Code 1995.

The Offence of Improper Use of Emergency Call Service

The offence is committed where a person:

  • makes a call to an emergency number, such as triple zero; and
  • intentionally reports an emergency that does not exist.

The offence can also be committed where a person:

  • makes a hoax call to an emergency number, such as triple zero; and
  • does not report an emergency but contacts the service for any other reason; and
  • the call made is vexatious.

A person who commits the offence of improper use of emergency call service is liable to imprisonment for up to three years and/or a fine of $75,600.

How is this Offence Proven?

Emergency call services have technologies available to identify the phone number and address of a caller. Additionally, law enforcement agencies can request personal details or other identifiers (such as an IP address) from telecommunication providers to trace particular calls that have been made.

What is an Emergency Service Number?

An emergency service number is a number used by members of the public in emergencies to request assistance from Police, Fire or Ambulance services. In Australia, the primary emergency call service number is triple zero (000). The secondary call service numbers are 112 and 106.

It should be noted that different numbers can be assigned for different emergency services and different areas. Ordinarily, this does not include the numbers for local service stations.

What is a ‘vexatious call’?

A vexatious call is a call without proper basis which is designed to harass or annoy or  the recipient or to frustrate the ability of a call system (such as an emergency service) to field calls.

The court considers a range of relevant matters when determining if a call is vexatious. The court will focus particularly on what was said during the call by the alleged offender. The court will also look at how many times the alleged offender previously contacted the emergency service and what they said on those occasions.


It may be possible to defend the charge by:

  • arguing that the alleged offender did not make the call;
  • arguing that the call was not made to an emergency service number;
  • arguing that the alleged offender did intend to report an emergency;
  • arguing that the alleged offender did not intend to make a hoax call; and/or
  • arguing that the call was not vexatious.

What Court will Hear the Matter?

As this offence carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment it can be dealt with in the summary jurisdiction if both parties agree. If the parties do not consent to the matter being heard summarily, it will proceed to a higher court.

If dealt with in the summary jurisdiction the maximum penalty an alleged offender can receive is reduced to 12 months imprisonment and/or a fine of $12,600.

Section 20BQ Application – Mental Illness or Intellectual Disability

If the matter remains in the summary jurisdiction, the alleged offender can make an application under section 20BQ of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) for the charge to be dismissed and for them to be discharged with or without conditions on the basis of mental illness or intellectual disability.

The court will take into account the facts of the case and circumstances of the alleged offender and any other relevant material. The court will only divert an alleged offender from the ordinary criminal procedure if satisfied it is more appropriate to do so.

Types of Penalties

As this is a Commonwealth offence if a person has entered a plea of guilty or been found guilty they will be sentenced under Commonwealth sentencing laws. Commonwealth penalties include:

The person can also receive other sentence options that are available in the applicable state or territory where the matter is heard.

If you require legal advice about hoax calls and improper use of emergency call service or any other legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Anastasia Qvist - Associate - Canberra

This article was written by Anastasia Qvist - Associate - Canberra

Ana is based in our Canberra office and practices in both ACT and NSW jurisdictions. Ana has over 5 years’ experience working as a criminal law advocate. Ana has appeared in the Local, District and Supreme Court in NSW and the Magistrates Court in the ACT. Ana is a strong advocate in the courtroom and has appeared without counsel in...

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