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Arson Offences and Penalties in Queensland (QLD)

The information on this webpage is to be read in conjunction with this disclaimer:
Australian National Character Check (ANCC) makes every effort to provide updated and accurate information to its customers. However due to the continuously changing nature of legislations for the Commonwealth and various States and Territories, it is inevitable that some information may not be up to date. The information on the website is general information only. The contents on the website do not constitute legal or professional advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal or professional advice. While we endeavour to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, suitability, accuracy or availability with respect to the information.

There are various property-related offences in Queensland. Property offences are a broader category that covers a wide range of property-related offences. In Queensland, there are two types of property-related offences, one is Arson offences, and the other is Burglary offences.

If you are convicted of an Arson offence, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on a national Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check.

Arson offence in Queensland

Arson offences are a serious property offence in Queensland, Australia. Arson is intentionally destroying someone's property using fire. Someone who commits an Arson offence knows the consequences and risks to the property from fire.

Arson offences cause significant damages to properties. People commit it for various reasons. Arson offences are one of the most complicated offences to solve and investigate because fire destroys all evidence. The state police department of Queensland appreciates those with a reward who report arson offences.

Why are Arson offences serious?

Arson offences are one of the most severe crimes because the damage caused by this offence can create serious consequences for the victim, which can have a devastating financial effect and cause emotional trauma. This offence can place human lives at risk on a large scale.


In Queensland, Arson offences are considered indictable offences. In case of an indictable offence, a committal hearing is important. After a committal hearing in Queensland, the matter proceeds to the high court of Queensland.


In Queensland, Arson offences are covered in Section 461 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (QLD).

Section 461 provides that any person who unlawfully and willfully sets fire to,

  • A building or another such structure,
  • A motor vehicle, aircraft, train or vessel,
  • Cultivated vegetable stack,
  • Stack of mineral or vegetable fuel,
  • Destroying Mineral mines, mines sites or fittings within mines with fire;

Is guilty of an offence under the Act.

Penalty for Arson

According to Section 461 of Criminal Code Act 1899 (QLD), the penalty for an Arson offence is up to life imprisonment.

If convicted of an Arson offence, the high court imposes one of the following penalties,

  • Jail (parole, suspended or actual time),
  • Probation,
  • Fines,
  • Intensive correction orders,
  • Community service order.

The real penalty in the Queensland high court for an Arson offence depends on the circumstances of the matter. This includes individual cases, the seriousness of the crime and the background of the defendant.

Sentencing for an Arson Offence

Arson offences are a serious criminal offence, and it is likely to be in the category of life imprisonment offences. The defence uses and considers Mitigating factors in arguing against the custodian sentence and reducing the penalty. The mitigating factors include good character, age, no criminal history and reputation within the community.

When the court determines the sentence that needs to be imposed in any criminal matter, the court considers all the offender's circumstances and the offending. Imprisonment is a sentence of last resort, and it is generally not imposed unless no other sentence order is appropriate.

Reason for Severe sentencing in Arson Offences

The reason why the law applies a long maximum penalty in the case of Arson Offences is General Deterrence. General deterrence is paramount in granting sentences in Arson offences. This aims to demotivate other members of the community from committing the same crime.

Elements of an Arson offence

Beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution has to prove that the defendant committed the arson offence. The aspects of the arson offence which the prosecution needs to prove are the following;

  • Defendant

The prosecution in court will prove the identity of the offender at first.

  • Fire

Scorching or charring is not a regular fire. An actual and a real fire needs to be proved. To satisfy this element and elemental fire needs to be confirmed. R v Joinbee (2013) QCA 246 provides that an actual fire needs to be set.

  • Unlawfully

An act that causes injury to someone or someone's property is unlawful. The prosecution needs to prove that the action is without the owner's consent and is not justified or excused by the law.

  • Willfully

The prosecution needs to prove the fact that it was a willful act. It’s to be confirmed that the offender knew about the consequences of the fire and the risks the fire can pose to the property or anything but regardless of all these, the offender did light the fire. The intentions of the offender are the real point here.

Common Actions that constitute Arson

The following are some common actions that constitute an Arson offence;

  • ✔ Setting fire to an abandoned house or building,
  • ✔ Pouring petrol on a car which is stolen and then lighting it up,
  • ✔ Igniting a Molotov cocktail and then throwing it through the front windows of the house so that it can start a fire,
  • ✔ Various other actions as stipulated by law.

Motives for Arson

There can be many motives for committing an arson offence. A common question that arises in the public's mind is why someone has committed such an extreme offence. So the following may be the reasons for committing arson.

  • Profit

Arson offences are committed for the purpose to gain financial or material benefit.

People set fire to the business property to collect insurance. They make profits from the market by destroying their competitor's supplies or destroying their shop or warehouse. An arson offence can give more earnings in many other ways, too, to the offender.

  • Animosity

People commit Arson offences only for an outlet for hatred, anger or revenge. Sometimes people destroy neighbour farms, homes, and vehicles. A fire in a warehouse or factory can be the result of jealousy of a partner or competitor.

Offenders take revenge by committing arson offences, and there are many examples of vengeance that people take by committing arson offences. Typical examples are destroying fields, burning vehicles.

  • Vandalism

Vandalism means the malicious and wanton destruction of property, and it covers Juvenile offenders too. Vandalism can be the reason for the Arson offence.

  • Crime Concealment

For crime concealment, criminals commit Arson offences. Crime concealment means that the offender destroys evidence or proof of another crime by committing an Arson offence. A typical example is destroying a stolen vehicle to remove DNA and or fingerprints. Sometimes arson offences are committed to remove and destroy hideouts, weapons and other shreds of evidence that can prove in court. In this case, the penalty can increase a lot because the offender has committed two crimes. One is arson offences by burning that specific thing, and removing or destroying evidence is another crime.

  • Political Protest

To signify extreme Protest, people commit arson offences. Political Protest using fire is usually done for political purposes or in political protests at a large scale. For example, they set fire to abortion clinics or burn tires on the road for road blockage. All those practices, including lightning fire or using fire for Political Protest, are the reasons for Arson offences. People believe that fire can spread havoc, and it is a sign of solid Protest. That is why most of the political movements go for using fire in their Protest.

  • Psychopathological

Some people who have committed arson offences have a personality disorder, mental handicaps, or other psychopathic reasons.

Defences Available for an Arson Offence

There are several defences available to Arson offences. They are the following:

  • Intention of the Offender

One of the top defences is that the offender lacks the requisite intention. Arson is an offence that must involve a specific purpose to cause a particular result

In R v Lockwood, ex parte Attorney General (1981) Qd R 209, the case gives the dictation that Arson is an act done by a person willfully. Within Section 461 of the Criminal Code, it must be committed recklessly or intentionally.

  • Identity doubts

Identity can serve as a factual that can be argued to the arson offence in court, and it is the argument where the defence can question the matter beyond a reasonable doubt. The defence contends that the prosecution has not cleared the reasonable doubt and the offender's identity is in doubt.

  • Having a Lawful Excuse

A lawful excuse to start a fire can serve as a defence in an Arson offence. A legal reason to start a fire is the ignition for agricultural purposes, fire-fighting training, or a campfire.

  • Immature age of the Offender

In Australia, a child below the age of 10 cannot be held responsible for a crime.

  • Mental Impairment

Mental impairment serves as a legal defence to an arson offence. Suppose the accused has a cognitive impairment to the point where the accused do not understand the nature of the conduct and distinguish between wrong and proper behaviour. In that case, the court may term the accused as not-guilty.

Will an Arson offence show up on a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check?

If an individual is convicted for the offence of Arson, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the results of their Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check.

Individuals can obtain a police check online via the Australian National Character Check - ANCC® website.

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