What Does Criminal Law Say About Threatening a Person?

Information on this page was reviewed by a specialist defence lawyer before being published. Click to read more.
Woman scared

Threatening another person is not always a criminal offence.

Whether or not you will be found guilty under criminal law for threatening a person depends on the circumstances involved, and the nature of your relationship with the other individual concerned. Here are a few possible criminal offences you may be charged with if you have been accused of threatening another person.

Threatening harm to a Commonwealth public official

If the person being threatened is a Commonwealth public official you could potentially be charged with a federal offence for threatening them. Commonwealth offences often come with harsh penalties, and as they are dealt with in the supreme court, the case will be heard by a judge and jury instead of a magistrate. Threatening harm to a Commonwealth public official comes with a maximum penalty of nine years’ imprisonment.

To prove that you have threatened harm to a Commonwealth public official, the prosecution needs to show that you threatened to cause serious harm to the public official or a third person. They will also need to be able to prove that you intended the person who was being threatened to genuinely believe that the threat would be carried out, or you were reckless as to whether or not they would have reason to believe the threat would be carried out.

The severity of the penalty for threatening harm to a Commonwealth public official will depend on the position and level of seniority of the person who is threatened. A threat can be expressed or implied, and it can either be conditional or unconditional for the purposes of this offence.

Common assault

Even though a threat may not be carried out and no physical contact occurs between the defendant and the alleged victim, threats made against a member of the public can be dealt with as a common assault charge. Common assault can be committed without touching another person as long as it can be proven that the person had reason to fear immediate or unlawful violence. To be found guilty of common assault, you would need to have made a threat, and have the wherewithal to carry out the threat.

Common assault is a summary offence and comes with a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.


Intimidation is a crime under Section 545B of the Crimes Act 1900. The legal definition of intimidation under this Section is ‘the causing of a reasonable apprehension of injury to a person or to any member of his family or to any of his dependants…” Injury in this instance doesn’t just mean physical injury but can also mean loss of income, injury to property or business or any other actionable wrong of any nature.

To be found guilty of intimidation, the prosecution will need to prove that you used violence or intimidation to compel someone to abstain from doing an act that they were legally entitled to do, or to compel them to perform an act they were legally entitled to abstain from doing. Verbal threats can be included in this offence, as well as threatening non-verbal behaviour that could give someone reason to fear for their safety. Intimidation is a summary offence, and comes with a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.

Threatening property

It is not just threats against people that are treated as a criminal offence. If you threaten to destroy or damage another person’s property in NSW you can be charged under Section 199 of the Crimes Act and face a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

Other penalties for threatening behaviour

If someone believes that they are at risk of violence or harassment from another person, they can take out an apprehended violence order (AVO) against them. Although an AVO isn’t a criminal conviction and accepting the terms of an AVO won’t lead to a criminal record, having an AVO against you will restrict your movements and can affect your ability to have a firearms licence and to work in certain occupations. Breaching the terms of an AVO can lead to criminal charges and a conviction.

If you have been accused of threatening someone they can take out an AVO against you even if there is no concrete evidence, particularly if you are in a domestic relationship with them.

Threatening a person can come with severe penalties and having a criminal conviction against you can have implications for your future. If you have been charged with threatening an individual or a Commonwealth official, or if someone is seeking an AVO against you, it’s important that you take the charges seriously and obtain advice from a good criminal lawyer as soon as possible.

Last updated on

Receive all of our articles weekly


Ugur Nedim

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®.

Your Opinion Matters