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.

Types of penalties

Jail: This is the most serious penalty and involves full time detention in a correctional facility. Read more.

Home Detention: As a result of amended legislation this penalty was repealed on 24 September 2018 as a standalone order but may be imposed as a condition of an Intensive Corrections Order (ICO). Home detention is an alternative to full-time imprisonment. In effect the gaol sentence is served at your address rather than in a gaol. If you receive a sentence of home detention you will be strictly supervised and subject to electronic monitoring. Read more.

Intensive Corrections Order (ICO): This option has replaced periodic detention. The court can order you to comply with a number of conditions, such as attending counselling or treatment, not consuming alcohol, complying with a curfew and performing community service. Read more.

Suspended Sentence: As a result of amended legislation this penalty was repealed on 24 September 2018. This is a jail sentence that is suspended upon you entering into a good behaviour bond. Provided the terms of the good behaviour bond are obeyed the jail sentence will not come into effect. A suspended sentence is only available for sentences of imprisonment of up to two years. Read more.

Community Service Order (CSO): As a result of amended legislation this penalty was repealed on 24 September 2018 and replaced with a Community Corrections Order (CCO). This involves either unpaid work in the community at a place specified by probation and parole or attendance at a centre to undertake a course, such as anger management. In order to be eligible for a CSO you have to be assessed by an officer of the probation service as suitable to undertake the order. Read more.

Good Behaviour Bond: As a result of amended legislation this penalty was repealed on 24 September 2018 and replaced with a Community Corrections Order (CCO). This is an order of the court that requires you to be of good behaviour for a specified period of time. The court will impose conditions that you will have to obey during the term of the good behaviour bond. The maximum duration of a good behaviour bond is five years. Read more.

Community Corrections Orders (CCO): A CCO involves the standard conditions that an offender must not commit any offence and that the offender must appear before the court if called on to do so at any time during the term of the Community Corrections Orders (CCO). Additional conditions may be imposed at the discretion of the court, both at the time of sentence and subsequently upon application by a community corrections officer, juvenile justice officer or the offender. Read more.

Fines: When deciding the amount of a fine the magistrate or judge should consider your financial situation and your ability to pay any fine they set. Read more.

Section 10A: A section 10A is a conviction, with no other penalty attached to it. Read more.

Conditional Release Order (CRO): A CRO involves the standard conditions that an offender must not commit any offence and that the offender must appear before the court if called on to do so at any time during the term of the CRO. Read more.

Section 10 avoiding a criminal record. Normally, when you plead guilty to a criminal offence, the court imposes a penalty and records a conviction. If the court records a conviction, you will have a criminal record. However, if we can convince the court not to convict you, there will be no penalty of any type and no criminal record. In all criminal cases, the court has the discretion not to convict you, but to give you a Section 10 dismissal instead. Read more.

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

WHERE TO NEXT?

If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

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