By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
Australians love a good jest.
Not only is it ingrained in our culture, for many of us, when discussing or dealing with serious matters, it is considered the “Australian way” to make light of a sombre affair by making some sort of amusing remark about it or simply clowning around.
Nevertheless, when the subject matter involves purposefully inducing a false belief that an explosive or dangerous substance has been left in a public place, like it or not, you are actually committing an offence.
More significantly, that offence can land you in trouble with the law or even facing a lengthy jail sentence.
If you need convincing that this is no laughing matter, then consider the case of the man from Newcastle in NSW who earlier this year, was arrested after allegedly making a hoax bomb threat against a flight from Mumbai to Singapore.
It is believed the man carried out the hoax after he was left unsatisfied by the service of an airline.
The man was arrested at Sydney International Airport by the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
How the Hoax Unfolded: Newcastle Man Warns of Bomb Onboard Flight
On 26 March 2019, a 39-year-old man called Mumbai International Airport Limited from his NSW home to allegedly report a bomb was on board a flight from Mumbai to Singapore.
The Republic of Singapore Air Force was immediately deployed, in turn causing major delays and disruptions to both airlines and passengers.
Following an extensive liaison between Singapore authorities and the AFP, the Newcastle man was soon identified as the alleged offender.
He was charged with using a carriage service for a hoax threat, contrary to section 474.16 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).
AFP Warns Threats to Airlines Taken Extremely Seriously
In the aftermath of the situation, AFP Airport Police Commander, Superintendent Peter Mullins, warned that any threat to airlines is taken extremely seriously.
“A hoax threat is a serious matter that causes significant repercussions for the airline, airport, responding agencies and members of the public,” Superintendent Mullins said.
“The AFP works closely to ensure the safety of the travelling public at airports is maintained at all times.”
Indeed, given today’s anxious air travel climate and security-conscious times, such hoaxes are taken even more seriously and considered increasingly inappropriate.
The Rising Trend of Hoax Bomb Threat Calls
As criminal lawyers from Sydney who appear across all courts, we’ve dealt with many such cases which often leaves one wondering, “why?”. We now have the answer.
According to Aviation Security International, for decades now, the aviation industry has been dealing with rising numbers of bomb threats, which are communicated in a range of ways and for a variety of reasons.
In many cases, the culprits tend to be people who want to settle scores with someone else, a passenger who has been ill-treated by an airline, or just a prankster.
While the majority of alerts received are usually bogus and rarely connected with the presence of an actual explosive device, each must undergo the same process of evaluation and this significantly increase the workload of security forces, bomb squads, dog units and the intelligence agencies.
In fact, every alert ends up being properly checked to avoid any risks.
Whenever a threat call is received, a bomb threat assessment committee is formed and they categorise it into specific or non-specific threat.
If the threat is specific, every part of the airport is put on alert and the flight concerned is vacated, while the baggage of the passengers is checked again.
In non-specific cases also, the entire airport is often sanitised.
When a bomb threat is received by telephone, as much information as possible must be gathered from the caller in order to evaluate the veracity of the threat.
The more specific and detailed the threat, the greater the probability that an explosive may be found.
For this reason, telephone receptionists and customer service staff who receive outside telephone calls are often trained in advance to calmly and professionally question callers, observe background noises, evaluate language and accents, and swiftly report exhaustive information to security staff and law enforcement authorities.
In Australia, nation-wide, the law on using a carriage service for a hoax threat is contained in section 474.16 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Clth). It carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.
A person will be guilty of this crime if he/she uses a ‘carriage service’ to communicate with the intention to induce a false belief that an explosive, or dangerous or harmful substance (or thing), has been (or will be) left in a place.
The maximum penalties are lighter for using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence under section 474.17 of the Criminal Code Act, which has been covered on a previous blog we did.
A carriage service here is defined in section 7 Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) and means a service for carrying communications by the uses of guided and/or unguided electromagnetic energy. Examples of this include mobile phone, internet and social media.
‘Using a carriage service’ here does not include:
- Being a carrier and acting solely in the person’s capacity as a carrier;
- Being a carriage service provider and acting solely in the person’s capacity as a carriage service provider;
- Being an internet service provider and acting solely in the person’s capacity as an internet service provider;
- Being an internet content host and acting solely in the person’s capacity as an internet content host.
Defences to the Charge of Using a Carriage Service for a Hoax Threat
Defences to a use carriage service for a hoax threat charge include:
- Involuntary conduct
- mental health defence
If you’re a child under the age of 10 or if you’re over 10, but under 14 in circumstances you weren’t aware that the conduct you did was wrong.