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The Northern Territory laws establish the act of trespassing as an offence which comes with several penalties. In fact, under certain conditions, an offender may face the punishment of life imprisonment. These laws are present in the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT) and the Trespass Act 1987 (NT).
In this write-up, we will be going into the details of trespassing. Specifically, this has to do with the laws regarding trespassing, its penalties and the possible defences.
However, we cannot consider these areas without explaining some legal terms that we may later come across when delving into the details of trespassing.
If an individual is convicted in a Northern Territory (NT) court for a Trespass offence, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on a national criminal background check in the NT.
Crown land refers to land under the ownership and management of the State government. Consequently, this means that occupying crown land requires obtaining a licence or an agreement form from the government.
According to Section 4 of the Trespass Act 1987 (NT), an occupier is an individual who lawfully occupied land, whether through leasing or by purchasing it. An occupier could also be the State Government as regards Crown Land. Furthermore, a person placed in charge of land can be referred to as an occupier.
Premises refer to any temporary or permanent building/structure. Also, this includes any fixed or moveable building/structure. Examples of premises include a yard, garden, an enclosed area, a vehicle, vessel, and an aircraft or hovercraft.
Prohibited land means land that belongs to the State Government (Crown Land) upon which there is a notice banning the act of trespassing. Specifically, a prohibited land could be under the ownership of a statutory corporation.
According to Section 5 of the Trespass Act 1987 (NT), it is an offence for a person to trespass premises without authorisation. The trespassing offence attracts a maximum of 20 penalty units or six months imprisonment.
Based on Section 213 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT), it is illegal for any person to unlawfully enter a building having the intent of committing a crime.
If the crime the offender intends to commit falls under a summary offence in the NT, then they may be liable to a year imprisonment. However, if the building is a dwelling house, they may face two years imprisonment.
Also, this section states that any individual who enters a building to perpetrate an indictable offence in the NT that carries a maximum of three years imprisonment may face three years of incarceration.
But if the building the offender entered is a dwelling house, they could be liable to a maximum of five years imprisonment. Furthermore, in a situation of occupants being present at the time of entry, the maximum penalty would be seven years imprisonment.
Also, a person who enters a dwelling house without authorisation to commit a crime for which the maximum penalty is more than three years imprisonment would be liable to incarceration for seven years. If the building is a dwelling house, the offender may face ten years of imprisonment.
Additionally, the law makes it clear that if an offender committed any of the offences, as mentioned earlier, in the middle of the night, they are liable to face twice the penalty prescribed for that offence.
Furthermore, the law states that anyone who commits these offences while bearing a firearm or any dangerous weapon is liable to twenty years imprisonment.
However, if the offender entered a dwelling house with a weapon, they are liable to life imprisonment.
According to Section 6 of the Trespass Act 1987 (NT), trespassing on prohibited land is an offence that attracts a maximum of twenty penalty units.
Under Section 7 of the Trespass Act 1987 (NT), it is a crime for a person to trespass after receiving directions to leave. The direction could be from an occupier or a police officer acting on the request of an occupier.
Also, it is an offence for the person to return to that land within 24 hours upon receiving directions to leave. The maximum penalty for trespass after direction to leave is twenty penalty units.
According to Section 8 of the Trespass Act, the occupier of land can issue a warning to a person who is trespassing or has trespassed on their property. They could also warn someone likely to trespass on their premises.
Based on this section of the law, any person who receives this warning and still trespass or continues trespassing has committed an offence.
Consequently, the court may officially warn the offender to steer clear of the place. If the offender trespasses within one year after the official warning, they may receive a maximum of twenty penalty units.
A member of the Police Force has the power to remove a person from a place if they refuse to leave after receiving a warning or direction.
However, before the police officer physically attempts to remove a person from a place, the officer will often warn about the consequence of their action.
Physically removing the trespasser could lead to an arrest without a warrant so that the person can be further dealt with under the law.
The seriousness of an offence can determine the court where the trial will hold. In the Northern Territory, primarily, there are two courts, the Local Court and the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court handles most of the indictable offences while the local court is in charge of the less serious crimes. Consequently, this means that the local court handles most trials for trespassing.
There are several defences that an accused can raise during the trial. According to Section 13 of the Trespass Act 1987 (NT), a defendant can claim that they committed the crime of trespassing due to an honest and reasonable mistake.
Consequently, claiming this defence might require the offender to convince the court that they did not see the notice warning against trespassing. Also, the defendant will have to prove to the court that they never intended to trespass while hunting or in pursuit of a game.
Another defence to the charge of trespassing is the defendant proving to the court that their action was necessary to protect themself or another person against danger. A person could also claim they committed the crime of trespassing to ensure the safety of their property or the property of another person.
Furthermore, an accused can raise the defence that the occupier of land that put up the notice regarding trespassing is no longer the owner of the premises.
Raising these defences to the charge of trespassing may result in the acquittal of the accused.
The crime of trespassing could be indicting or a less serious offence depending on several factors. However, a person could still end up having a criminal record for a less serious trespassing offence. Consequently, a criminal record can make it challenging for an individual to enjoy some benefits such as getting desired employment, travelling to certain countries, e.t.c.
If an individual is found guilty of a trespass offence in the Northern Territory (NT), the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the results of their police check.
Individuals can obtain a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check online via the Australian National Character Check - ANCC® website.
Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT) - https://legislation.nt.gov.au/en/Legislation/CRIMINAL-CODE-ACT-1983
Trespass Act 1987 (NT) - https://legislation.nt.gov.au/en/Legislation/TRESPASS-ACT-1987
NT Law Handbook (Offences Against Property) - http://ntlawhandbook.org/foswiki/NTLawHbk/OffencesAgainstProperty
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