Penalties for Making False Statements that a Person or Property is in Danger

By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.

 

In recent times, the idea of “political correctness” has undoubtedly become a topic of hot debate – at BBQs, on social media, and even in Parliament.

For many, it’s considered the Australian way to make light of a serious topics by cracking a joke and having a laugh.

And yet for some, comments such as “don’t mind the bomb in my bag” are not considered funny in the slightest and offend all too easily.

Indeed, there is nothing amusing about having to evacuate an airport, delay passengers and flights, and rescreen thousands of travellers and their luggage all because of a thoughtless comment.

Given today’s anxious air travel climate and security-conscious times, to some, such remarks are considered even more inappropriate, especially when it risks the safety of an aircraft and its passengers.

To highlight a case in point, in what could be claimed as a joke that bombed before it took off, last week, a 42-year-old woman from Victoria was arrested for allegedly making false threats in relation to an aircraft at Hobart Airport after she allegedly jested to staff at the check-in counter that she had explosives in her luggage.

On the afternoon of November 14, 2018, the Knoxfield woman arrived at the Virgin Airlines check-in counter, ready to board a flight to Melbourne. It was at this point that she allegedly made the “joke” bomb threat.

The woman was spoken to by airline staff and following this was allowed through security screening.

However, while on the tarmac before boarding the aircraft, she then allegedly repeated the prank comments that she was carrying explosives.

According to police, she was spoken to by airline staff again on the tarmac.

After boarding the place, she was then removed from the flight by airport security and police were alerted of the situation.

Tasmania Police Rule Out Threat

At 2:14pm, police arrived at the scene where appropriate measures were taken to rule out a threat and ensure that the airplane and passengers were safe.

This in turn delayed the flight’s departure by one hour, before it was eventually cleared to fly.

Meanwhile, the woman told police that she simply made the comments “as a joke”.

Speaking of the situation, Acting Sergeant Robert Bessell said, “making statements in relation to explosive devices at airports is an offence and will be taken seriously.”

Woman Fronts Hobart Magistrates Court

On Saturday morning, the woman accused of the Hobart Airport bomb threat fronted Hobart Magistrates Court in an out-of-hours session where she was granted bail.

She is due to reappear in court in February.

Hoax Bomb Threats No Laughing Matter

While it may be the Australian way to make light of serious matters such as terrorism, these days, cracks inferring airport and aircraft safety are arguably no laughing matter. This holds more relevance when considering the current security-conscious times in aircraft travel.

Indeed, the upshot of such jokes depends on when and where they are made.

A seemingly flippant comment made at the check-in might humour the joker. However, a crack made after a plane has left the terminal only disrupts the airline as well as other passengers, and most times causes delays in later flights. In turn, this can result in huge costs to airlines.

When it comes to airline safety, jokes and inappropriate comments are generally no longer tolerated.

In fact, many airlines now have signs in airports advising passengers that action will be taken and that strict procedures are in place to deal with all threats.

What it Means to Make False Statements that a Person or Property is in Danger

In NSW, conveying false information that a person or property is in danger is an offence that can land you in trouble with the law and hit you with a maximum penalty of five years in jail under section 93Q of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

According to the law, it is a crime to deliver information that is false or misleading which is likely to make the person to whom the information is conveyed fear for the safety of a person or property.

This information may be conveyed through any means, including making a statement orally, sending a document or transmitting an electronic or other message.

It can also be conveyed through other means such as making a report to Police or other authorities, or calling an emergency hotline such as 000.

You will be guilty of this offence if the police prove beyond reasonable doubt-each of the following elements of the crime in court:

  1. You conveyed information; and
  2. You knew the information was false or misleading; and
  3. The information is likely to make the person to whom the information is conveyed fear for the safety of a person or of property (or both).

If dealt with in the Local Court, the maximum penalty is imprisonment of up to 2-years or $11,000 fine. However, if dealt with in the District Court, the maximum penalty is up to 5-years imprisonment.

A similar offence includes using a carriage service to threaten if the threat was made using technology, such as a mobile phone or internet.

The offence of using a carriage service for a hoax threat under section 474.16 of the Criminal Code carries a penalty of up to 10-years imprisonment.

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