Offences Against Property
This covers unlawful entry onto land. It often also covers situations where a person refuses to leave land, e.g. during political protests or industrial activity.
Trespass is the entry without lawful excuse upon any land without the consent of the owner or occupier or the person in charge of it (s14B, POA). An owner or occupier of land or their agent can require the name and address of a suspected trespasser. It is an offence to refuse to provide it, even though the person charged is later acquitted of trespass. A police officer may arrest without warrant a person who appears to be a trespasser. Before doing so, the police officer must give the trespasser an opportunity to leave.
Damage to Property
It is an offence in an urban area to deface or damage walls etc (s15(1)(b)), and it is also an offence to destroy or injure any property (s37). Note that the Police Offences Act is not the only statute prohibiting behaviour of this sort. Equivalent charges can be laid under the Criminal Code.
To be convicted the defendant must perform an act which has ‘no lawful justification’ and the act must be ‘wilful’, that is, the person must consciously perform an act and, in doing so, must appreciate that the damage was likely to result yet persist in not caring whether the damage occurred or not.
The damage must be actual rather than hypothetical. Thus it has been held to be no offence for a few people to play soccer on a paddock used for grazing. But slight damage, however temporary, will result in a conviction, for example, a small dent in the fabric of a policeman’s cap. The injury must be something which reduces the value of an object or requires something to be done by the owner to return it to its former state.
Unlawful Use of Property
It is an offence to take or to use the property of another, whether it is an animal, boat, vehicle such as a bicycle or wheel barrel, or a motor vehicle, without the authority of the owner or someone else lawfully in charge, or without lawful excuse. In the case of motor vehicle stealing (s37B), which is the most common charge of this sort, the person lawfully in charge of the motor vehicle must also have the authority to give that consent. For example, a person who has borrowed a car will be lawfully in charge of the motor vehicle, but may not have the authority to give consent.
It is not necessary to prove an intention on the part of the defendant permanently to deprive the owner of their property. The Police Offences Act is concerned only with the unauthorised use of the car. However it is necessary for the prosecution to prove that the use was dishonest in character.
Motor vehicle stealing is a serious offence and carries penalties of a fine up to 50 penalty units and up to 3 years in prison. Also the defendant may be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver’s licence and may be liable to make good loss or damage sustained by the owner.
Possession of Stolen Property
It is an offence to be found in possession of property reasonably supposed to have been stolen or unlawfully obtained (s39). This is a complex provision and to be convicted the defendant must be ‘found’ to be ‘in possession’ of property which is ‘reasonably supposed’ to be stolen or unlawfully obtained and without being able to account for it to the court. Hearings of such charges are often characterised by lengthy legal argument covering the above points and a person so charged should seek competent legal advice.
The essence of the charge is that the police must make out a case and then the defendant must prove their innocence on the balance of probabilities. There is also a charge of receiving stolen property contrary to the Criminal Code.