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Are criminal charges for bushfire arson out of date?

Updated on June 20, 2014

In the wake of terrible fires in Victoria are our laws from the Victorian era?

Lighting a fire on any land in country Victoria during extreme weather conditions is an offense which can result in imprisonment for a term of 3 months to 2 years.

The criminal charges relate mainly to property. Should we upgrade those charges to include all charges of murder?

Let;s have a look at the laws on murder.

The Facts about the Law on Murder

A murder is a willful killing, in which someone makes a conscious choice to kill someone else, while a manslaughter is an accidental murder.

For example, someone who plans to use a car to kill someone would be charged with murder, while a driver who accidentally hits a cyclist would be charged with manslaughter.

Premeditation distinguishes murder. It implies that the murderer was not acting from haste or violent rage, but from a place of cold, calculating hardness.

Current Laws

Causing a fire in a country area during extreme weather conditions

* 200E of the Crimes Act 1990 (intentionally lighting a fire and being reckless as to its spread to vegetation) or

* 100(1) of the Rural Fires Act 1997 (setting a fire or allowing a fire to escape).

Causing a fire in a country area with an intent to cause damage

* It is an offence to do any act (without a lawful excuse) in country Victoria to cause, or for the purpose of causing, a fire with an intention to destroy another person’s property. Property includes vegetation, produce, stock, crop, fodder or other property.

Individuals found guilty of this offence may be liable for imprisonment for a term of one to 20 years. They may be liable for imprisonment but the law still relates to property.


Australian has experienced the worst bushfires in Victoria in the past few days

Bushfires are high on the list of Australia's natural disasters however the Australian Institute of Criminology reports that half of the nation's 20,000 to 30,000 bush fires each year are deliberate.

Bushfires in Australia

Every year, thousands of hectares of Australian bushland go up in smoke. More often than not fires are raging in remote areas but when they threaten local communities lives are lost.

Big cities aren't safe from the ferocity of fires either. We have had tragedies such as the Canberra bushfires of 2003, where 4 lives were lost and as many as 431 properties were damaged, the Ash Wednesday fires of February 1983 (71 deaths in Victoria and South Australia) or the Tasmanian fires of February 1967 (62 lives, more than 1400 houses and buildings lost)

The current Victorian fires have so far claimed over 100 lives.

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