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  • Riot Offences and Penalties in Queensland (QLD)

    Every form of public disorder falls outside the standard legislations and codes of Queensland. For Riot offences, it is enough that the accused person has joined or participated in an unlawful group or movement.

    Generally, riots are sometimes brutal and usually a spontaneous movement in the community. Besides the potential danger in a mob movement, there is also the constant fear of attacks and property damage from other people in the community.

    For this, Queensland grants the Police certain powers regarding dealing with riots and related offences. The Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) provides all descriptions and regulations regarding riots and associated offences in Queensland.

    Following the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld), Police officers also have broad responsibilities in using force or necessary means to suppress the uprising of a riot.

    If an individual is convicted in a Queensland court for a riot offence, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on a national police record check in QLD.

    The offence will be disclosed on a criminal history check in accordance with the Spent Convictions Scheme legislation in QLD.

    Riot offences in QLD

    Chapter 9 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) describes all matters related to the breaches of the peace.

    Section 61 of the Act describes the offence of Riot to mean a gathering of 12 or more people;

    • Where specific laws describe their gathering as unlawful under Queensland laws
    • The gathering threatens or uses unlawful violence against a person, property or for a common purpose, and
    • Such conduct would cause a person in the vicinity to fear for their lives/safety or damage to their property.
    • When hearing a Riot case, every individual indicted in the gathering receives their respective punishments.

    The main elements that characterise a riot

    There are various reasons why an action or gathering may degenerate into a riot; it is up to the law enforcers and Police to apply the necessary action and force to curb them all.

    • Unrestricted social activities cause them
    • They are usually spontaneous as regards the planning or coordination
    • They mainly involve some forms of violence or the other
    • The violence is usually committed in mobs or through mob actions, where people jointly inflict damage.

    What is the punishment for Riot offences?

    Like several other offences in Queensland, the punishments for Riot offences depend on the extent of the damage. The Act prescribes penalties up to life imprisonment where the offender;

    • Causes serious bodily harm to a person
    • Supervises or causes an explosive material to go off in a building, vehicle or machinery

    However, the legislation allows the court to impose penalties up to 7 years where the offender;

    • Carried a dangerous weapon, instrument or offensive substance,
    • The act caused the property to be damaged either by the offender or any other assembled person.

    In the absence of any additional aggravating circumstance to the riot, the court can only impose three years imprisonment for a riot offence.

    Subsection 2 makes it irrelevant to the case that there was a person in the vicinity who would fear for their lives or property from the riotous act. It means the court can still rule a gathering or act to be riotous even when no one is in the area.

    Various circumstances are listed in the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) that counts as aggravation for Riot offences. Usually, the courses will issue modified sentences/punishments for such situations.


    1. Going armed as to cause fear in public

    Section 69 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) considers it an offence to go armed in public without lawful reasons to cause fear to anyone in the vicinity. It includes cases where the accused was reckless that their action would cause anxiety to another person.

    Anyone the court finds guilty of this offence is guilty of a charge that incurs two years imprisonment.

    Also, The Police or other authorities are liable to arrest such offenders without a warrant.


    1. The offence of forcible entry

    Section 70 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) lists an offence where a person causes reasonable fear or violence by;

    • Entering a land or property under another’s care,
    • Enters a land that was under peaceable conditions

    This offence carries a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment.

    For this offence, it is immaterial to the court that the person is entitled to enter the property or not.


    1. Suppression of a Riot

    Section 261 of the Criminal Code makes it legal for any person to use force to suppress a riot or violent movement insofar as the;

    • Force used is necessary to the act,
    • Reasonably proportioned to the imminent threat.

    Where the court is unsure, a Judge can rule that a person's force is necessary and reasonable with the threat. Section 262 of the Act allows force where necessary and proportional to the threat of a rioting group.

    Section 263 makes it legal for a person or group acting under good faith and the law to use force to suppress violence or violent uprising. It also includes cases where reasonable grounds are against the person carrying out the action.


    1. Affray Offences in QLD

    Section 72 of the Act describes an offence where one, two or more people take part in a public show of violence in a manner that alarms the public. It does not matter that this act happened in a private space as long as the public had access, or the act could still cause reasonable fear.

    The Act describes Affray offences as one that carries 1-year imprisonment.

    Other cases of aggravation for this offence are listed in the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) .


    1. Threatening violence

    Section 75 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) lists an offence where threatens to damage, destroy or break into a dwelling. It includes where the person has made such threats by their words or any other conduct signalling threats.

    Under this definition, it is also an offence if the accused person discharges a loaded firearm or does any harm likely to cause any person in the vicinity to fear. For this offence, the Act stipulates a maximum of two years imprisonment.

    When the person commits such an offence at night, the offender is guilty of an offence and liable to 5 years imprisonment.

    Which court hears a matter of riot or unlawful gathering in QLD

    The District Court in QLD hears primary riot and illegal group offences in QLD. However, where there is an aggravating circumstance, especially where it leads to serious injury, damage or death, the case will be committed to a higher court.

    Prevention of Riot and Breach of Peace and Riot

    Section 50 of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld) describes cases where the Police can step in. The Act allows the Police to step in where the officer suspects;

    • There is a breach of peace ongoing or where it already happened
    • There is every cause or reason to believe that there is an imminent breach of peace
    • An entity or body threatens the peace of the community/society

    Subsection 2 allows the Police officer to take any lawful steps or tools they consider reasonably necessary to prevent the breach. Some of these acts include;

    • A Police officer can detain a person until there is no longer a threat that justifies their detention.
    • Where a person forces their way to the front of the queue, they can be directed to the end.
    • The Police can also seize a property they think will be used to cause a breach.

    Prevention of a Riot in QLD

    A police officer can take actions to prevent or suppress a riot reasonably. It is also lawful for a Police officer to quell a riot under reasonable orders.

    Section 51 of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld) allows a Police officer to step in if they suspect a riot offence is being committed or about to be committed and take actions to suppress the riot.

    Court Proceeding for Riot offences in QLD

    The Police or Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in QLD usually prosecutes all riot offences and cases in Queensland. And when arguing the case, the Magistrate requires them to prove the following case beyond doubt that;

    The accused person;

    • Was gathered with at least two other persons in a gathering that will reasonably be unlawful,
    • The gathering had a primary/common purpose at the time,
    • The gathering having two others exhibited conducts and actions that made people around fear for their lives, or
    • Cause a tumult as to their gathering.

    The court considers it immaterial even if the original gathering was lawful, but the group conducted themselves in a manner that is prohibited in the Act.

    The Act considers a disturbance of peace where the unlawful gathering begins to act in a tumultuous manner that disturbs the peace.

    Where there is an aggravation to the offence, the Police must prove that the accused was the person who committed the offence.

    Possible defences to Riot offences in QLD

    It is often difficult to defend your participation in an unlawful gathering, especially when it leads to a riot and other circumstances are unclear. However, with good counsel and argument, the accused may prove that;

    • ✔ They had no common purpose with the other two-person gathered or in the assembly.
    • ✔ The meeting was not such that a reasonable person would fear the conduct or gathering.
    • ✔ The accused was not part of the group that gathered nor supported such a group in any way.
    • ✔ There were not up to three people in the group (unlawful gathering) or 12 people (riot) at the time of the activity.

    Will a Riot Offence in QLD show up on a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check?

    If an individual is found guilty of a Riot offence in QLD, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the results of their criminal background check.

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

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