The Offence of Causing Bushfires in New South Wales

by Ugur Nedim

It has been reported that a 79-year old man from the south coast of South Australia was arrested on Saturday, 4 January 2020 and charged with four counts of intentionally causing a bushfire.

Police allege the man lit four scrub and grass fires in the state’s Rosetown-Kingston SE area, namely:

  • adjacent to Catherine Gibson Way on Monday 30 December 2019,
  • adjacent to Catherine Gibson Way on Thursday 2 January 2020,
  • adjacent to First Street on Saturday 4 January 2020, and
  • adjacent on Eleventh Street on Saturday 4 January 2020.

Police say the man was refused bail at the police station and will appear before Mount Gambier Magistrate’s Court today.

They say no property was damaged as a result of the fires, but that one house came under threat.

Causing a bushfire in New South Wales

Causing a bushfire is an offence under section 203E of the Crimes Act 1900 which carries a maximum penalty of 21 years in prison.

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

  1. You intentionally caused a fire, and
  2. You were at least reckless about its spread to vegetation on public land or to land belonging to another.

You are not responsible for the offence if:

  1. You were a firefighter, or
  2. You were acting under the direction of a firefighter, and
  3. You were firefighting or conducting hazard reduction operations

A person who is not guilty may instead be found guilty of setting or causing a fire without lawful authority, which is an offence under section 100(1) of the Rural Fires Act 1997.

That offence attracts a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and requires proof beyond reasonable doubt that you:

  1. Set or caused a fire to land or property belonging to another person or the public, or
  2. Permitted a fire to escape from land you occupied Where this was likely to cause injury or damage to other people or property.

Author

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with over 20 years of experience as a criminal defence lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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