Arson Causing Death

– section 197A of the Crimes Act 1958


The Police use Arson Causing Death when a person commits arson that causes the death of another person.

Examples of Arson Causing Death
  • Someone sets fire to a eucalypt plantation in outback Victoria. The fire spreads rapidly due to a change in wind direction to a country town and kills someone.
  • Someone lights a small fire in a house out of spite and then leaves the house. The fire spreads and kills 2 sleeping occupants.

Our client’s daughter had set fire to the former family home, then became trapped inside the burning premises and died as a result of the fire. The prosecution alleged our client had been involved in a joint criminal enterprise with her daughter to commit the arson. They argued that our client had purchased fuel for the fire, driven her daughter to the house, and had then waited in the back streets while her daughter lit the fire. Our client was acquitted of the charge as she was not guilty at all. She loved her daughter and did not want a fire started.

What are possible defences to an Arson Causing Death charge?
  • The Arson was committed by someone else.
  • The fire was an accident.
  • The death was caused by someone or something else.

There are other possible defences, depending on the circumstances surrounding the alleged offending. Each matter is unique and requires an individual approach and strategy.

Questions in cases like this
  • How can they prove you, not someone else, committed arson?
  • How can they prove the you deliberately lit the fire?
  • How can they prove the death wasn’t caused by someone or something else?

Maximum penalty and Court that deals with Arson Causing Death

The maximum penalty for Arson Causing Death is level 2 imprisonment (25 years).

The offence is usually heard in the County Court. Although in a bushfire type arson, the Court might decide that the Supreme Court is the appropriate jurisdiction to hear these charges.

“Was there an intention to start the fire?”
What is the legal definition of Arson Causing Death?

To prove arson Causing Death the Prosecution must first prove that someone deliberately destroyed or damaged another’s property with fire. They must then prove that the fire caused a person’s death.

Legislation

The section that covers this offence is section 197A of the Crimes Act 1958.1

prison penalty sentencing

What can you be sentenced to for this charge?

Arson Causing Death is a very serious offence that will normally mean that you will serve a prison term if you are found guilty.

Sentencing Outcomes in the Higher Courts2

From July 2011 to June 2016, there were a total of 12 charges of Arson Causing Death cases heard before Victorian higher courts. All of these charges resulted in a prison term: 83.3% to more than 11 but less than 12 years imprisonment and 16.7% to between 10 and 11 years.

Other Important Resources
Case Studies

[1] Crimes Act 1958 – Section 197A

A person who commits arson as defined in section 197 and thereby causes the death of another person is guilty of an indictable offence.
Penalty: Level 2 imprisonment (25 years maximum).
Note
An offence against this section is a category 2 offence under the Sentencing Act 1991 . See subsection (2H) of section 5 of that Act for the requirement to impose a custodial order for this offence unless the circumstances set out in paragraphs (a) to (e) of that subsection exist.

[2] SACStat Higher Courts: Arson Causing Death (1 July 2011 to 30 June 2016)