NSW Sentencing Council

Review of the standard non-parole period for the bushfire offence and the maximum penalties for destroying property by fire

An amendment has been made to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) to increase the maximum penalty for lighting bushfires from imprisonment for 14 years to imprisonment for 21 years. In light of this, the Attorney General has asked the Sentencing Council to review:

  • the standard non-parole period (SNPP) for lighting bushfires, and
  • the maximum penalties for destroying property by fire.

SNPP for lighting bushfires

The offence of intentionally causing a fire and being reckless as to its spread to vegetation on any public land or land belonging to another now has a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 21 years: Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) s 203E

Before 28 November 2018, the maximum penalty was imprisonment for 14 years.

The SNPP for lighting bushfires remains at 5 years: Standard Non-Parole Periods Table, item 15B

Along with the maximum penalty, an SNPP is a "guidepost" for the sentencing court which “represents the non-parole period ... that, taking into account only the objective factors affecting the relative seriousness of that offence, is in the middle of the range of seriousness”.

Maximum penalties for destroying property by fire

The offences of destroying or damaging property are set out in s 195-198 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) .

In addition to the basic offence of intentionally or recklessly destroying or damaging another's property, there are offences (with higher maximum penalties) where the destruction or damage is done:

  • with the intention of injuring a person
  • dishonestly, with a view to gain, or
  • with the intention of endangering life.

In some of these cases there is also an increased penalty where the offence is committed in company or during a public disorder. In each case (except where the offence is committed with the intention of endangering life) there is a higher penalty where the offence is committed by fire or explosives.

The penalties for all of these offences are set out in the following table.

Destroy or damage property... basic offencein companyduring a public disorder
(without fire or explosives)by fire or explosives(without fire or explosives)by fire or explosives(without fire or explosives)by fire or explosives
intentionally or recklessly (s 195)5 years10 years 6 years11 years7 years12 years
intending to injure a person (s 196)7 years14 years9 years16 years
dishonestly, with a view to gain (s 197)7 years14 years9 years16 years
intending to endanger life (s 198)25 years ​

 

The former maximum penalty for lighting bushfires (14 years) was the same as that for destroying property by fire with intent to injure a person, or dishonestly with a view to gain, and two years less than the same offences when committed during a public disorder.

Increasing the maximum penalty for lighting bushfires to 21 years has set a maximum penalty that is greater than all of the offences of destroying or damaging property, except where it is done with the intention of endangering life (which has a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 25 years).

A previous review of bushfire arson laws was conducted by the Legislation, Policy and Criminal Law Review Division of the NSW Attorney General's Department in April 2009.