Wightman rules out bushfire death law

Wightman rules out bushfire death law

11 November 2013

published by www.examiner.com.au

Australia — MAKING it a new offence to kill by bushfire has been ruled out by the state government.

The Sentencing Advisory Council recommended the offence be inserted in the state’s criminal code following a review into arson laws.

But Attorney-General Brian Wightman said the existing legislation covered situations where a fire resulted in a foreseeable death.

Mr Wightman pointed to the 2004 Launceston backpacker hostel fire which left a Scottish traveller dead as an example of the current legislation working.

Metro Backpackers’ night manager come arsonist Tony Laurence McLennan was sentenced to nine years in jail for the manslaughter of Callum Melville who was 21.

“After careful consideration, a fire that results in the death of a person will be able to be prosecuted under existing provisions … as was the case with the fire in the Launceston backpacker hostel,” Mr Wightman said.

However the sentencing council found convictions could be difficult to achieve if the scenario involved a bushfire.

“One argument in support of a new bushfire offence resulting in injury or death or endangering life is that murder and manslaughter may be more difficult to establish in the context of the bush than in a structural fire,” the sentencing council’s report said.

It goes on to say “murder is difficult to establish when a fire is deliberately lit in the bush as the prosecution [has] to show beyond reasonable doubt that the firesetter intended to take a human life”.

Tasmania Police and the Tasmania Fire Service both supported the new offence but Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions wasn’t convinced.

The opposition said it backed “in-principle” the sentencing council’s recommendations which included sending some offenders to rehabilitation prior to sentencing.

The government said it wouldn’t be giving courts the power to send arsonists to treatment prior to sentencing just yet.

“Establishment of a treatment program would require significant further research, work and consideration,” Mr Wightman said.

Last week the government changed its mind on creating a new offence of starting a bushfire after an outcry from farmers who feared they could be jailed for back-burns that got out of control.

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