Sentencing Trends for Arson in the Higher Courts of Victoria 2011–12 to 2015–16

Sentencing Snapshot 201
Date of Publication: 
27 April 2017

Sentencing Snapshot no. 201 describes sentencing outcomes for the offence of arson in the County and Supreme Courts of Victoria from 2011–12 to 2015–16.

The most recent Sentencing Snapshot for this offence is Snapshot no. 226.

You can also find statistics for this offence on SACStat.

Authored and published by the Sentencing Advisory Council
© State of Victoria, Sentencing Advisory Council, 2017

Introduction

This Sentencing Snapshot describes sentencing outcomes[1] for the offence of arson in the County and Supreme Courts of Victoria from 2011–12 to 2015–16.[2] Adjustments made by the Court of Appeal to sentence or conviction as at December 2016 have been incorporated into the data in this Snapshot.

Detailed data on arson and other offences is available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

A person who intentionally and without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another by setting it on fire is guilty of arson. A person is deemed to have destroyed or damaged the property intentionally if it was the person’s purpose to do so or if the person was aware that his or her conduct was more likely than not to result in the damage or destruction of the property.

Arson is an indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment[3] and/or a fine of 1,800 penalty units.[4] Indictable offences are more serious offences triable before a judge and jury in the County or Supreme Court. Arson can also be tried summarily by the Magistrates’ Court if the property involved meets certain criteria, the Magistrates’ Court considers it appropriate and the defendant consents.

Arson was the principal offence[5] in 1.3% of cases sentenced in the higher courts from 2011–12 to 2015–16.

People sentenced

From 2011–12 to 2015–16, 116 people were sentenced in the higher courts for a principal offence of arson.

Figure 1 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of arson by financial year. There were 28 people sentenced for this offence in 2015–16, the highest number in the past 5 years, up by 9 people from the previous year.

Figure 1: The number of people sentenced for arson by financial year, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Financial year Total
2011–12 27
2012–13 20
2013–14 22
2014–15 19
2015–16 28
Total 116

Sentence types and trends

Figure 2 shows the total number of people sentenced for arson and the number that received an immediate custodial sentence. An immediate custodial sentence is one that involves at least some element of immediate imprisonment or detention.[6] Over the five-year period, 65% of people were given an immediate custodial sentence.

Figure 2: The number of people sentenced for arson and the number that received an immediate custodial sentence, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Financial year Custodial Non-custodial Total
2011–12 15 12 27
2012–13 14 6 20
2013–14 13 9 22
2014–15 11 8 19
2015–16 22 6 28
Total 75 41 116

Table 1 shows the number of people sentenced for arson from 2011–12 to 2015–16 by the types of sentences imposed. The availability of different sentence types has changed over time. Most notably, wholly and partially suspended sentences have now been abolished.[7]

Over the five-year period, the majority of the people sentenced for arson received a period of imprisonment (74 people or 64%). Of these, 55 people received imprisonment and 19 people received either aggregate imprisonment or imprisonment combined with a community correction order. Additionally, 25 people (22%)sentenced for arson received a community correction order.

The number and percentage of people who received a period of imprisonment for arson peaked in 2015–16 at 79% or 22 of 28 people. The number and percentage of people receiving a period of imprisonment for arson were lowest in 2014–15 at 58% or 11 of 19 people.

Table 1: The number and percentage of people sentenced for arson by sentence type, 2011–12 to 2015–16 (in descending order of total for 2015–16)

Sentence type 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 Total
Imprisonment 14 (52%) 13 (65%) 11 (50%) 8 (42%) 9 (32%) 55 (47%)
Imprisonment and community correction order (combined) 0 (–) 1 (5%) 1 (5%) 2 (11%) 9 (32%) 13 (11%)
Community correction order 4 (15%) 4 (20%) 7 (32%) 5 (26%) 5 (18%) 25 (22%)
Aggregate imprisonment 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (5%) 1 (5%) 2 (7%) 4 (3%)
Aggregate imprisonment and community correction order (combined) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 2 (7%) 2 (2%)
Non-custodial supervision order 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (5%) 1 (5%) 1 (4%) 3 (3%)
Wholly suspended sentence 5 (19%) 2 (10%) 1 (5%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 8 (7%)
Convicted and discharged 2 (7%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 2 (2%)
Partially suspended sentence 1 (4%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Community-based order 1 (4%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Adjourned undertaking with conviction 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (5%) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Unconditional release 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (5%) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
People sentenced 27 20 22 19 28 116

Age and gender of people sentenced

Data on the age and gender of people sentenced for arson is available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

Principal and total effective sentences

Two methods for describing sentence types and lengths are examined in this section. One relates to the principal sentence and examines sentences for the offence at a charge level. The other relates to the total effective sentence and examines sentences for the offence at a case level.

The principal sentence is the sentence imposed for the charge that is the principal offence.[8]

The total effective sentence in a case with a single charge is the principal sentence. The total effective sentence in a case with multiple charges is the sentence that results from the court ordering the individual sentences for each charge to be served concurrently (at the same time) or wholly or partially cumulatively (one after the other).

In many cases, the total effective sentence imposed on a person is longer than the principal sentence. Principal sentences for arson must be considered in this broader context. The following sections analyse the use of imprisonment for the offence of arson from 2011–12 to 2015–16.

Principal sentence of imprisonment

A total of 74 people received a principal sentence of imprisonment for arson from 2011–12 to 2015–16.[9]

Figure 3 shows these people by the length of their imprisonment term.[10] Imprisonment terms ranged from 3 months to 4 years and 2 months, while the median length of imprisonment was 2 years and 6 months (meaning that half of the imprisonment terms were shorter than 2 years and 6 months and half were longer).

The most common length of imprisonment imposed was 3 to less than 4 years (19 people).

Figure 3: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for arson by length of imprisonment term, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Imprisonment length Number of people
Less than 1 year 13
1 to less than 2 years 11
2 to less than 3 years 15
3 to less than 4 years 19
4 to less than 5 years 10
People sentenced 68

As shown in Figure 4, the average (mean) length of imprisonment imposed on people sentenced for arson ranged from 1 year and 9 months in 2015–16 to 2 years and 7 months in 2011–12 and 2013–14.

Figure 4: The average (mean) length of imprisonment imposed on people sentenced for arson, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Financial year Number of people Average length of imprisonment term
2011–12 14 2 years, 7 months
2012–13 14 2 years, 6 months
2013–14 12 2 years, 7 months
2014–15 10 2 years, 2 months
2015–16 18 1 year, 9 months

Other offences finalised at the same hearing

Often people prosecuted for arson face multiple charges, which are finalised at the same hearing. This section looks at the range of offences for which offenders have been sentenced at the same time as being sentenced for the principal offence of arson.

Figure 5 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of arson by the total number of offences for which sentences were imposed. The number of sentenced offences per person ranged from 1 to 39, while the median was 2.5 offences. There were 32 people (27.6%) sentenced for the single offence of arson. The average number of offences per person sentenced for arson was 4.15.

Figure 5: The number of people sentenced for the principal offence of arson by the number of sentenced offences per person, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Number of offences Number of people
1 32
2 26
3 17
4 6
5–9 27
10–19 6
20+ 2
Total 116

Table 2 shows the 10 most common offences for people sentenced for arson, by number and percentage. The last column sets out the average number of offences sentenced per person. For example, 23 of the total 116 people (19.8%) also received sentences for theft. On average, they were sentenced for 1.96 counts of theft.

Table 2: The number and percentage of people sentenced for the principal offence of arson by the most common offences that were sentenced and the average number of those offences that were sentenced, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Offence Number of cases Percentage of cases Average number of proven offences per case
1. Arson 116 100.0 1.46
2. Theft 23 19.8 1.96
3. Burglary 22 19.0 1.50
4. Intentionally destroy/damage property (criminal damages) 21 18.1 1.71
5. Contravene family violence intervention order (interim/final) 8 6.9 2.00
6. Fail to answer bail 8 6.9 1.13
7. Making a threat to kill 5 4.3 1.40
8. Drive while disqualified or suspended 5 4.3 1.00
9. Attempt to pervert the course of justice 5 4.3 1.00
10. Handling stolen goods 4 3.4 1.75
  People sentenced 116 100.0 4.15

Total effective sentence of imprisonment

Figure 6 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for arson from 2011–12 to 2015–16 by length of total effective imprisonment term.[11] The total effective imprisonment terms ranged from 3 months to 8 years and 2 months, while the median total effective imprisonment term was 3 years (meaning that half of the total effective imprisonment terms were below 3 years and half were above).

The most common total effective imprisonment term was 3 to less than 4 years (23 people).

Figure 6: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for arson by length of total effective imprisonment term, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Total effective imprisonment length Number of people
Less than 1 year 11
1 to less than 2 years 11
2 to less than 3 years 7
3 to less than 4 years 23
4 to less than 5 years 15
5 to less than 6 years 2
6 to less than 7 years 0
7 to less than 8 years 2
8 to less than 9 years 2
People sentenced 73

Non-parole period

If a person is sentenced to a term of immediate imprisonment of less than 1 year, the court cannot impose a non-parole period. For terms between 1 year and less than 2 years, the court has the discretion to fix a non-parole period. For terms of imprisonment of 2 years or more, the court must impose a non-parole period in most circumstances. Where a non-parole period is fixed, the person must serve that period before becoming eligible for parole. Where no non-parole period is set by the court, the person must serve the entirety of the imprisonment term in custody.

Of the 73 people who were sentenced to imprisonment for arson, 62 were eligible to have a non-parole period fixed.[12] Of these people, 56 were given a non-parole period (90%).[13] Figure 7 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for arson from 2011–12 to 2015–16 by length of non-parole period. Non-parole periods ranged from 4 months to 6 years, while the median length of the non-parole period was 2 years (meaning that half of the non-parole periods were below 2 years and half were above).

The most common non-parole period imposed was 2 to less than 3 years (24 people).

Figure 7: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for arson by length of non-parole period, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Non-parole period Number of people
Less than 1 year 4
1 to less than 2 years 16
2 to less than 3 years 24
3 to less than 4 years 8
4 to less than 5 years 0
5 to less than 6 years 3
6 to less than 7 years 1
No non-parole period 17
Total people 73

Total effective sentences of imprisonment and non-parole periods

Figure 8 presents the average length of total effective sentences of imprisonment compared with the average length of non-parole periods from 2011–12 to 2015–16.

From 2011–12 to 2015–16, the average length of total effective sentences for all people ranged from 2 years and 5 months in 2015–16 to 3 years and 8 months in 2013–14. Over the same period, the average length of non-parole periods ranged from 1 year and 9 months in 2011–12 to 2 years and 5 months in 2015–16.[14]

Further data on total effective sentences of imprisonment and corresponding non-parole periods for arson is available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

Figure 8: The average total effective sentence and the average non-parole period imposed on people sentenced to imprisonment for arson, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Financial year Average total effective length Average non-parole period
2011–12 3 years, 1 month 1 year, 9 months
2012–13 3 years, 0 months 2 years, 1 month
2013–14 3 years, 8 months 2 years, 4 months
2014–15 2 years, 10 months 2 years, 2 months
2015–16 2 years, 5 months 2 years, 5 months

Non-imprisonment sentences

Data on the length of non-imprisonment sentence types, such as community correction orders, suspended sentences and fines, for arson are available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

Summary

From 2011–12 to 2015–16, 116 people were sentenced for arson in the higher courts. Of these people, 74 (64%) were given a principal sentence of imprisonment.

The number and range of offences for which people with a principal offence of arson were sentenced help explain why imprisonment sentence lengths were longer for the total effective sentence than for the principal sentence. The median total effective imprisonment length was 3 years while the median principal imprisonment length was 2 years and 6 months.

Total effective imprisonment lengths ranged from 3 months to 8 years and 2 months, and non-parole periods (where imposed) ranged from 4 months to 6 years.

Endnotes

[1] This series of reports includes custodial and non-custodial supervision orders imposed under Part 5 of the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act 1997 (Vic) as sentencing orders and in the count of people sentenced. These orders are not sentencing orders as they are imposed in cases where the defendant is found to be unfit to stand trial or not guilty because of mental impairment. However, they are included in this report as they are an important form of disposition of criminal charges.

This Sentencing Snapshot is an update of Sentencing Snapshot no. 175, which describes sentencing trends for arson from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

[2] Data on first instance sentence outcomes presented in this Snapshot was obtained from the Strategic Analysis and Review Team at Court Services Victoria. Data on appeal outcomes was collected by the Sentencing Advisory Council from the Australasian Legal Information Institute, and also was provided by the Victorian Court of Appeal. The Sentencing Advisory Council regularly undertakes extensive quality control measures for current and historical data. While every effort is made to ensure that the data analysed in this report is accurate, the data is subject to revision.

[3] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 197(6).

[4] The value of a penalty unit changes each year and can be found in the Victorian Government Gazette and on the Victorian Legislation and Parliamentary Documents website.

[5] If a person is sentenced for a case with a single charge, the offence for that charge is the principal offence. If a person is sentenced for more than one charge in a single case, the principal offence is the offence for the charge that attracted the most serious sentence according to the sentencing hierarchy.

[6] Immediate custodial sentences include imprisonment, imprisonment and community correction order (combined), aggregate imprisonment, aggregate imprisonment and community correction order (combined) and partially suspended sentences.

[7] Suspended sentences have been abolished in the higher courts for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2013 and in the Magistrates’ Court for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2014.

[8] Refer to Endnote 5.

[9] This total includes the people in Table 1 who received a sentence of imprisonment, imprisonment combined with a community correction order, aggregate imprisonment and aggregate imprisonment combined with a community correction order.

[10] Data presented in this section does not include imprisonment lengths for people who received an aggregate sentence of imprisonment. Sentence lengths for aggregate sentences of imprisonment apply to the whole case, while Figure 3 only deals with sentences of imprisonment for the principal proven offence of arson. From 2011–12 to 2015–16, 6 people received an aggregate form of imprisonment.

[11] Of the 74 people who received imprisonment as their principal sentence for arson, 73 also received a total effective sentence of imprisonment. One person was sentenced for a mix of state and Commonwealth offences. This person received a sentence of imprisonment combined with a community correction order for their principal charge of arson but a Commonwealth partially suspended sentence with a recognizance release order as the total effective sentence.

[12] A total of 11 people were not eligible to have a non-parole period fixed because they were given a total effective sentence length of less than 1 year.

[13] A non-parole period was not set for 6 people who were eligible for a non-parole period.

[14] Both the average total effective sentence and the non-parole period was 2 years and 5 months in 2015–16. This was due to a combination of fewer cases of imprisonment being granted a non-parole period, and some cases receiving longer non-parole periods compared with previous years, which resulted in an increase in the average non-parole period.