The Law, Penalties and Defences for Making Bomb Threats in Australia

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Downing Centre Entrance

New South Wales’ busiest courthouse, the Downing Centre in the Sydney CBD, was evacuated at around 10am on Friday, 2 June 2023 when a man reportedly walked through the entrance holding a package and stated “this is a bomb”.

The man is reported to have left the package at the reception before leaving the building.

Emergency services were called and the entire building was evacuating, putting the many dozen cases listed in the Local and District Courts within the courthouse on hold for several hours.

An exclusion zone was implemented on parts of Elizabeth, Goulburn and Liverpool Streets until bomb squad specialists were able to examine the package and confirm it to be “safe”

It was tested by police bomb squad specialists and later found to be “safe”.

Police are reviewing CCTV footage in order to find the person behind the hoax, and say they already have suspects.

Criminal Offences involving Bomb Hoaxes

Both Commonwealth and New South Wales legislation contain offences relating to bomb threats.

Commonwealth Offence – Using a Carriage Service to Make a Bomb Threat 

Using a carriage service for a hoax threat is an offence under section 474.16 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

As it is contained in federal legislation, the offence applies in every state and territory across Australia.

To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  1. You used a carriage service to send a communication, and
  2. You intended by doing so to induce a false belief that an explosive, or a dangerous or harmful substance or thing, has been or will be left in any place.

What is a ‘Carriage Service’?

A ‘carriage service’ is defined as, ‘a service for carrying communications by means of guided and/or unguided electromagnetic energy’.

The definition includes telephone calls, text messages and internet transmissions, such as emails and the use of social media sites.

NSW Offence – Conveying False Information that a Person is in Danger

Conveying false information that a person or property is in danger is an offence under section 93Q of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), which carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison.

To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  1. You conveyed information to another person,
  2. You knew the information was false or misleading, and
  3. The information was likely to make the person to whom it was conveyed fear for the safety of a person and/or property.

Conveying information includes making a statement, sending a document, transmitting an electronic message and sending information by any other means.

It can include announcing a threat, such as falsely declaring there is a bomb, as well as making a report to emergency services by calling 000.

The ‘safety of a person’ includes your safety as well as that of the recipient.

What are the Defences to Bomb Threat Charges?

Legal defences to both Commonwealth and New South Wales charges involving bomb threats include:

  1. Duress,
  2. Necessity, and
  3. Self-defence.

In the event you are able to raise evidence of one of a legal defence, the onus then shifts to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the offence does not apply.

If the prosecution is unable to do this, you are entitled to an acquittal, which means a verdict of not guilty.

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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