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  • Home Resources & Technical Articles Criminal Offence Topics (A to Z) Arson Offences Arson Offences and Penalties in Western Australia (WA)

    Arson Offences and Penalties in Western Australia (WA)

    Arson offences are considered extremely dangerous and very serious crimes in Western Australia. Arson offences are easier crimes to commit, and they are at the same time tough to detect. Arson offences have caused an enormous loss to properties and buildings and insurance companies have suffered significant losses at the hands of Arsons. It is a potentially tragic crime. Targets in Arson offences are Buildings, bushlands, dwellings, vehicles, or crops. They are either damaged or destroyed by fire.

    Arson offences destroy public property through fire; there can be various flaming methods. It is a serious offence with severe penalties in Western Australia.

    Arson offences are a serious criminal offence. If there is a conviction in a WA court, the offence will show up on a national police check in WA.

    Why are Arson offences a serious criminal offence?

    The damage caused by this offence can create consequences for the victim, which can have a devastating financial effect and cause emotional trauma. This offence can also place human lives at risk.

    Arson Offence in the Criminal Code of WA

    The Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (WA) and the Bush Fires Act 1954 (WA) deals with arson offences in WA.


    Section 444 of the Criminal Code

    Section 444 of the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 outlines that any person who willfully or unlawfully destroys another person's property is guilty of the crime. This section makes it an offence to destroy any other personal property or cause any destruction using fire.


    Section 444A of the Criminal Code

    Section 444A of the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 states that a person in control or who has a source of fire ignition, or anything that can lead to a fire outbreak, is liable and must take extra precaution and reasonable care to avoid that fire from damaging another person's property. These are the duties of that specific person.


    Section 445 of the Criminal Code

    Section 445 of the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 states that a person would have committed a crime if they destroyed another person's property without the owner's consent.

    Jurisdiction of Arson Offences

    Arson offences are generally handled as an indictable offence in WA. The Supreme Court of Western Australia (WA) deals with Arson offences. The penalties are extreme in Arson offences, looking at the severity of the crime.

    The Bush Fires Act in WA

    Apart from the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913, several offences related to the irresponsible use of fire materials are dealt with in the Bush Fires Act 1954 (WA). They impose several prohibitions and restrictions to prevent bushfires. In addition, it plays an important role in managing bushfires in Western Australia; It extends the powers assigned to Bush Fire Control Officers.

    This act also allows Fire and Emergency Services Commissioners to declare a time of the year where one will need a permit for lighting a fire in Western Australia. The government of Western Australia can declare a total ban on fire in times where weather is conductive or is likely to be in favor of a fire outbreak, or the fire can spread into bush fires.

    • Lighting a fire in WA

    Section 32 of the Bush Fires Act 1954 states that an act will be declared as an offence if someone attempts to light a fire or place a thing or substance that is flammable. In such a place that may be triggered to ignition or set to fire in such circumstances that it may harm other people or damage property.

    Penalty

    The penalty for this act is up to 20 years of imprisonment.


    • Disposing burning cigarettes

    Section 30 of the Bush Fires Act 1954 states that it is an offence to dispose of a burning cigar, a burning cigarette, or match in a prohibited and restricted time under such circumstances where it is likely to set fire to anything.

    Penalty

    The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of $5,000.


    • Giving a false alarm

    Section 27B of the Bush Fires Act 1954 states that it is an offence when someone gives an alarm that is false to the fire authorities.

    Penalty

    The penalty for this offence is a fine of $5,000.

    Powers of bushfires control officers in WA

    The Bush Fires Act 1954 gives bush fire control officers the power to do anything necessary to control, prevent, or extinguish a bushfire. These powers include encroachment and entering any building, pulling fences down, and using or taking water from any source. It also includes cutting off electricity or clearing fire breaks.

    Restricted and Prohibited Burning Times

    The Minister of Environment and Conservation can declare a prohibited and restricted burning time. It is then considered an offence setting fire in that restricted and prohibited time unless someone gets a permit.

    Total Fire Ban in WA

    A total fire can be declared over an area by the Minister. Lighting a fire without the Minister's express permission is declared an offence during the total fire ban.

    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 has someone committed such an extreme offence? So the following may be the reasons for an offender committing arson.


    • Financial Gain

    People may commit arson offences for the purpose to gain financial or material benefits. They set fire to the business property to collect insurance. People take profits from the market by destroying their competitor's supplies or destroying their shop or warehouse. There can be a number of other ways in which one can get profit by committing an arson offence.


    • Animosity

    People may commit Arson offences 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 may take revenge by committing arson offences. Typical examples are destroying fields or burning vehicles.


    • Vandalism

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


    • Crime Concealment

    For crime concealment, criminals may 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 by arson to remove DNA and or fingerprints. Criminals commit arson offences to remove and destroy hideouts, weapons and other shreds of evidence that can prove them guilty in a court.

    In this case, the penalty can increase because the offender has committed other 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 may commit arson offences. Political protest using fire is usually done for political purposes or in political protests at a large scale. For example, they may set fire to abortion clinics or burn tires on the road for road blockage. All those practices, including lighting a fire or using fire for political protest may be a reason for arson offences. People believe that fire can spread havoc, and it is a sign of solid Protest.


    • Psychopathological reasons

    Some people who commit arson offences have a personality disorder or other psychopathic reasons.

    Penalties and Charges for Arson Offences in WA

    According to Section 444 (1)(a) of the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913, the maximum penalty for an Arson offence is life imprisonment. It is due to the extreme damages caused by this offence and the severity of the crime, its effects on public properties and the public itself.

    Section 444 (1)(b) also outlines 10 years imprisonment if property was not destroyed or damaged by Arson.

    The offence may be dealt with summarily in WA if the property is not destroyed or damaged and the loss of the injury is less than the amount of $50,000 AUD. If the offence is dealt summarily, the legislation stipulates 3 years imprisonment and a $36,000 fine.

    Reporting an Arson Offence

    Any suspicious activity related to an arson offence can be reported to the WA police if anyone witnessed or who may supply information to the police to help convict an Arson offender.

    Reasons for severe sentencing in Arson related offences

    The reason why courts apply a harsh penalty in the case of an arson offence is general deterrence. General deterrence is paramount in granting sentences in Arson offences. General deterrence aims to demotivate other members of the community from committing the same crime.

    The severe penalties serve as a message to offenders that the same could happen to them in the said circumstances.

    The matters that the Supreme Court looks at in the case of Arson offences before rewarding sentence are the following,

    • Circumstances Behind the offence,
    • Damage caused,
    • The extent of the offence,
    • Damaged property,
    • Risk caused by the arson,
    • Impact of public property and public resources,
    • Method used.

    Defences for Arson offences in WA

    There are several possible defences available in case of an Arson offence. They may be any of the following.

    • Necessity,
    • Emergency,
    • Accident,
    • Duress,
    • No intention of igniting the fire,
    • Identification issues of the offender,
    • Insanity.

    Will an Arson offence in Western Australia (WA) show up on a national criminal history check?

    If an individual is convicted in Western Australia (WA) for the offence of Arson, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the results of their criminal background check.

    Due to the severity of arson related offences and their long associated imprisonment terms there is a conviction, an arson offence is generally not eligible for the spent convictions scheme in WA and the offence will remain on an individual’s criminal record check for life.

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

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