The offence of causing a bushfire and being reckless to it spreading is contained in section 203E of the Crimes Act 1900 which states:
- Who intentionally causes a fire, and
- Who is reckless as to the spread of the fire to vegetation on any public land or on land belonging to another is guilty of an offence.
Causing a fire includes:
- Lighting a fire, or
- Maintaining a fire, and
- Failing to contain a fire, except where the fire was lit by another person or the fire is beyond the control of the person who lit the fire.
In NSW, intentionally causing a bushfire and being reckless to it spreading is an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. However, if a person dies as a result of a bushfire, the perpetrator may be charged with murder or manslaughter which can carry a maximum penalty of up to 25 years imprisonment.
This offence is taken very seriously by the Courts. Bushfires inevitably cause significant damage to property and often result in the death or injury of wildlife. Due to the seriousness of the offence, the starting point in sentencing will often be a sentence of imprisonment. It is extremely unlikely that a person will receive a section 10 non conviction order for this offence.
Possible defences to causing a bushfire include but are not limited to:
- Self Defence
- You are a firefighter or were acting under direction of a firefighter and caused the fire in the course of bushfire fighting or hazard reduction.
In NSW, a court can impose any of the following penalties for starting a bushfire:
- Prison sentence
- Home Detention
- Intensive correction order (previously periodic detention)
- Suspended sentence
- Community service order (CSO)
- Good behaviour bond
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