Desecrating Protected Places Offences in NSW

Image credit: J-Philippe Menard

Poppy Morandin.

 

Five men have been charged after allegedly climbing onto the World War One Cenotaph in Sydney’s Martin Place and inappropriately posing with the statue.

NSW Police released CCTV footage of the incident, describing it as “an act of stupidity” and “extremely disrespectful”.

The video showcases the men, aged 19 to 21, climbing over the monument, with one individual ending up sitting on the shoulders of the statue.

The group posed for pictures and straddled the figures, before clambering off the memorial.

Police began an investigation into the incident after being notified of damage to the bayonet on a statue.

Three of the men – aged 19, 20, 21 – were issued Court Attendance Notices for desecrating a protected place.

The second 21-year-old was issued a Court Attendance Notice for offensive conduct.

They are all due to appear before Downing Centre Local Court on Wednesday 30 June 2021.

A fifth man, also aged 21, was arrested at Sutherland Police Station and charged with destroy or damage property and commit offensive act in, on war memorial/interment site.

It is alleged that as he clambered off the statute, he bent one of the soldier’s bayonets.

He was granted conditional bail to appear before Downing Centre Local Court on Monday 28 June 2021.

One of the accused has stated that the acts can be attributed to: “one too many drinks.”

Reports state that the group had been clubbing before ending up in Martin Place.

The Cenotaph is a heritage-listed monument that was unveiled in 1929.

It is located between George and Pitt Street in Martin Place, and comprises of life sculptures of servicemen who fought in World War I.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian expressed her disappointment at the incident, stating: “I think it’s really hurtful that a small number of Australians don’t appreciate the sacrifices many Australians made for our freedom.”

“That’s what hurts me the most, that some people don’t understand our history.”

Desecrating Protected Places Offences in NSW

In NSW, it is an offence to damage or desecrate protected places, pursuant to section 8(2) of the Summary Offences Act 1988(NSW).

A protected places include shrines, monuments or statues located in a public place, as well as war memorials or interment sites.

War memorials in the Act include the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney.

If found guilty, the maximum penalty applicable is a fine of up to $4,400 and a criminal conviction.

Pursuant to section 33, a person convicted of an offence under this Act may be found liable to pay an amount not exceeding $2,200 for the repair or restoration of any damage caused by the action which resulted in the conviction.

Furthermore, it is an offence to commit any nuisance or any offensive or indecent act in, on or in connection with any war memorial or interment site, pursuant to section 8(3) of the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW).

In NSW, the test for whether an act is deemed ‘offensive’ is whether a reasonable person, who is ‘tolerant and understanding, and reasonably contemporary in [his/her] reactions’ would have their feelings wounded or angered, as per Ball v McIntyre (1966) 9 FLR 237.

The maximum penalty applicable for this is a fine of up to $2,200 and a criminal conviction.

Instead of imposing a fine on a person, the court may seek to impose a Community Corrections Order as the case requires.

This order can include conditions that the offender must comply with, such as community service work, supervision, curfew conditions, and place restrictions, pursuant to section 8 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (NSW).

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