What is Skye’s Law in New South Wales?

by Ugur Nedim

Police allege that at around 11.45pm on Friday, 18 July 2020, a man with a suspended driver licence was driving a Ford Kuga vehicle at a speed of 72km/h in a 50km/h zone on Warnervale Road in Hamlyn Terrace near the NSW Central Coast, when he was signalled to pull over.

According to police, the man failed to stop and a pursuit was initiated which continued through Tuggerah and Yarramalong, before the man’s vehicle came to a stop next to bushland at Ravensdale Road in Cedar Brush Creek.

Police say the man exited the vehicle and fled on foot into adjacent bushland.

Officers from Tuggerah Lakes Police District initiated a search with the assistance of Police Rescue, the Police Dog Unit and State Emergency Services, but could not locate the man.

A 22-year old man suspected of being the driver was later arrested and charged with police pursuit, driving recklessly/furiously/in a manner/ at a speed dangerous, driving whilst suspended, exceeding the speed limit by more than 10km/h and entering inclosed land without a lawful excuse.

He was granted conditional bail to appear in Wyong Local Court on Monday, 27 July 2020.

What is Skye’s Law in New South Wales?

The offence of police pursuit is informally known as ‘Skye’s Law’.

It was introduced into the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (‘the Act’) as a discrete offence after 19 month old Skye Sassine was tragically killed during a police chase on New Years’ Eve in 2009, when two alleged robbers crashed into the car she was travelling in.

Skye’s law is an offence  under section 51B of the Act, which states: that:

‘[t]he 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 or in a manner dangerous to others, is guilty of an offence.’

‘Essential elements’ of the offence

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

  1. Was being pursued by police,
  2. Knew or ought reasonably have known or suspected that police were in pursuit and he or she was required to stop,
  3. Did not stop, and
  4. Drove recklessly, or in a manner or at a speed dangerous to others.

Impact of previous offences

The applicable penalties for police pursuit depend on whether it is the driver’s first or subsequent major traffic offence within the previous five years.

Major traffic offences are:

  1. Wounding, grievous bodily harm, manslaughter or murder caused by or arising from the use of a motor vehicle
  2. Furious driving
  3. Predatory driving
  4. Police pursuit (Skye’s law)
  5. Drink driving
  6. Drug driving (driving with an illicit substance present)
  7. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI)
  8. Negligent driving occasioning death or grievous bodily harm
  9. Driving recklessly, furiously or in a manner or at a speed dangerous
  10. Menacing driving
  11. Failing to stop after an impact causing injury
  12. Refusing or failing to submit to a breath test, analysis or assessment
  13. Refusing or failing to provide oral fluid, urine or blood
  14. Wilfully introducing or altering alcohol or drugs in system

It is also a major offence to aid, abet, counsel, procure or be an accessory before the fact to any of the above.

What are the penalties for a police pursuit?

If it is the driver’s first major traffic offence in the past 5 years, maximum penalty is:

  • 3 years in prison, and
  • An ‘automatic’ licence disqualification of 3 years which the court can reduce to a ‘minimum’ of 12 months.

The maximum penalty for a second or subsequent offence is:

  • 5 years in prison, and
  • An automatic licence disqualification of 5 years which the court can reduce to a ‘minimum’ of 2 years

Pleading not guilty

It is important to be aware that person must be found not guilty of police pursuit if the prosecution is unable to prove all of the four essential elements listed above beyond a reasonable doubt.

Legal defences to the charge include:

  • Honest and reasonable mistake of fact,
  • Duress, and
  • Necessity

If evidence of any of these defences is validly raised, the prosecution must then disprove the defences beyond a reasonable doubt.

Downgrading the charge

Where some but not all of the ingredients of the offence are established, a formal letter can be written to police – and negotiations undertaken – with a view to having the charge of police pursuit withdrawn and replaced with a less-serious charge, such as reckless driving or even speeding.

Pleading guilty

Where the evidence is strong, a person may choose to plead guilty to the offence.

In that event, the court has discretion to allow a person to avoid a criminal record, licence disqualification and fine by dealing with the case by way of a section 10(1)(a) dismissal or a conditional release order without a conviction

Those who wish to plead guilty can increase their likelihood of achieving a lenient outcome by:

  • Obtaining character references,
  • Writing a letter of apology to the court, and
  • Completing a traffic offender program.

Going to court for a police pursuit?

If you are going to court for police pursuit or another driving offence, call Sydney Criminal Lawyers anytime on (02) 9261 8881 to book a free initial conference with an experienced traffic lawyer who will advise you of your options and the best way forward.

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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