The Offence of Causing Bushfires in New South Wales

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Bushfire Australia

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.
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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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