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What is Arson?

Arson is the deliberate and malicious act of setting fire to and destroying or damaging property. It is a serious and hazardous crime that can result in death and destruction in a short amount of time. The laws concerning arson in NSW are principally outlined in the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) and the Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW).  The consequences and maximum penalties vary depending on the type of arson, and can result in lengthy jail sentences.

Types of arson

Destroy or vandalise property

An individual can be charged with arson if they intentionally or recklessly cause destruction or damage to property that belongs to another person.

The maximum punishment for this when the damage is caused by arson is 10 years imprisonment. If the offence is committed in the presence of others, the maximum penalty increases to 11 years.

Additionally, if an individual uses fire or explosives to intentionally or recklessly destroy or damage property belonging to someone else during a public disturbance (such as a riot or violent demonstration), the maximum penalty is 12 years imprisonment.

Dishonestly destroy or vandalise property

Section 197 of the Crimes Act provides that it is an offence for an individual to dishonestly cause destruction or damage to property by arson with the intention of profiting from it.

The maximum punishment is 14 years in imprisonment.

If the arson occurs during a public disturbance, the maximum sentence increases to 16 years. This offence encompasses scenarios where a property is intentionally set on fire for the purpose of making an insurance claim.

Arson with Intent To Cause Injury

Section 196 of the Crimes Act defines the offence of destroying or damaging property with the aim of causing harm to another person. If the damage is caused by arson, the maximum punishment for this offence is 14 years in prison, or 16 years if it occurs during a public disturbance.

Arson with Intent To Endanger Life

As outlined in Section 198 of the Crimes Act, an individual who uses arson to cause destruction or damage to property with the intention of putting another person’s life at risk can face up to 25 years in prison.

Causing a Bushfire

The legislation regarding the crime of causing a bushfire can be found in section 203E of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). This states that a person may be charged if they deliberately start a fire and are careless about whether the fire might spread to vegetation, public or private land. The section does not apply if the fire was started under the direction of a firefighter or as part of their job, or during “hazard reduction operations” such as back burning.

The maximum penalty for this crime is 21 years in prison.

The Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW) provides an alternative arson charge through Section 100(1). It declares that a person who starts a fire on public or private property and fails to prevent it from spreading, resulting in injury or damage to someone or something, will be charged with an offence. This offence carries a maximum punishment of 1000 penalty units, 5 years in jail, or both. If the arson was committed during a total fire ban, the offender could face more severe consequences, including a fine of 1200 penalty units or 7 years in jail, or both.

Section 100(2) states that a person who leaves an open-air fire without completely putting it out is also guilty of an offence. The maximum penalty for this is 50 penalty units in fines, 12 months in jail or both.

If someone dies as a result of a deliberately lit fire, the offender could face other serious charges such as manslaughter.

How can BSM help?

If you have been charged with an arson related offence, it is important that you seek urgent legal advice.  The maximum penalties for arson are dependent on the different legal categories of arson as outlined in this article.  The majority of arson offences are considered to be serious crimes and can result in lengthy jail terms.  The criminal lawyers at Brander Smith McKnight recognise the serious nature of these offences and have experience in arson matters.  We will vigorously advocate for your rights.  Our lawyers have experience across all levels of courts in NSW and will confidently represent you.  We also have a panel of criminal barristers that we can call on if required.

Call us to arrange a free 20 minute no obligation consultation that includes case evaluation and cost estimate.

We are conveniently located in Sutherland, Parramatta, Sydney CBD and Wollongong.

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