The Offence of Police Pursuit (NSW)
The offence of police pursuit was introduced in New South Wales in response to the tragic death of a toddler, Skye Sassine, after her family’s car was hit by a suspected armed robber who was evading police. This created the individual offence of police pursuits colloquially known as “Skye’s Law” under Section 51B of the Crimes Act 1900. This article outlines the offence of police pursuit.
What is the Offence of police pursuit?
Section 51B of the Crimes Act 1900 provides that a person is guilty of an offence if they are the driver of a vehicle:
- Who knows, ought reasonably to know or has reasonable grounds to suspect that police officers are in pursuit of the vehicle and that the driver is required to stop the vehicle, and
- Who does not stop the vehicle, and,
- Who then drives the vehicle recklessly or at a speed in a manner dangerous to others.
Elements of police pursuit offence
In establishing any offence, police are required to prove all the elements beyond a reasonable doubt. Some offences have physical elements as well as a mental element (intention, recklessness, negligence or knowledge).
Most traffic offences are ‘strict liability’ offences, meaning police don’t need to prove that the person intended to commit the offence, but only that they carried out the physical act. An example of this is a speeding offence.
However, with police pursuit offences, police need to establish that they accused knew, ought reasonably to know or had reasonable grounds to suspect that police officers were in pursuit of their vehicle, and that they were required to stop.
If a person did not and could not reasonably have known that police were in pursuit of their vehicle, they would have a defence to this charge.
The physical elements of the offence are that the accused:
- Did not stop a vehicle, and
- Then drove the vehicle recklessly or at a speed or in a manner dangerous to others.
Penalties and license disqualifications
The applicable penalty for an offence of police pursuit varies on whether it is the accused’s first or second offence of this nature. For a first offence the maximum penalty is imprisonment for three years. In the case of a second or subsequent offence, the maximum prescribed penalty is imprisonment for five years.
The offence of police pursuit is considered very serious and often results in the imposition of a significant penalty. A first offence will often result in a penalty ranging from a Community Corrections Order (with a community service order) to a sentence of imprisonment to be served either by way of an Intensive Corrections Order or in full-time custody.
Given the high maximum penalties and the purpose for which the offence was introduced, it is very likely that a conviction will be recorded when a person is found guilty of this offence.
As a police pursuit offence is defined as a “major offence” under Section 4 of the Road Transport Act 2013, upon conviction a mandatory license disqualification is also imposed. The period of disqualification depends on whether the accused has had another previous major offence in the last five years before conviction. If the accused has had no major offences, the automatic disqualification period is three years with a minimum period of 12 months. Where there is a major offence in the five years before conviction, the automatic disqualification period is five years. However, the court may impose a lesser disqualification period of no less than two years if satisfied that it is appropriate to do so.
As police are required to establish all the above elements beyond a reasonable doubt, an accused person may have a defence where:
- They were not the driver of the vehicle or did not commit the offence;
- They did not know and could not reasonably have known that police were in pursuit of their vehicle;
- They did not know and could not reasonably have known that they were required to stop the vehicle, or
- They did not drive recklessly or at a speed or in a manner dangerous to others; or
- Immediately after becoming aware that police were in pursuit, they stopped the vehicle.
If you require legal advice or representation in this or any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.