Criminal law is a complex area, and sometimes on the surface a case judgement can seem to be illogical.
One common example is the offence of assault, which can be proved where an act produces immediate fear of violence even where no physical assault has occurred.
A recent case posed an interesting question: can someone be found guilty of damaging property, where the property has not actually been damaged?
On 8 May 2016 Mr Paul Grajewski participated in an environmental protest at the Port of Newcastle. He mounted the stairs of a coal loader, which was in use but was immediately shut down due to safety concerns.
After climbing to the top of the loader, Mr Grajewski attached himself to it using a harness and roping device. He then lowered himself through the air to approximately 10 metres above a platform, where he remained suspended until police removed him.
The loader was out of operation for more than two hours as a result of Mr Grajewski’s actions.
Mr Grajewski was charged with property damage under s 195(1)(a) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (“the Crimes Act”) and was fined $1,000.
Ambiguity in interpreting the law
s 195(1)(a) of the Crimes Act provides as follows:
“(1) A person who intentionally or recklessly destroys or damages property belonging to another or to that person and another is liable:
(a) to imprisonment for 5 years …”
Mr Grajewski appealed to the District Court against his conviction, contending that he could not have committed the offence charged because the loader had not been damaged.
The Court found that although the charge had been a little unclear, there had been the necessary “interference with functionality of the property” so as to establish “damage” within the meaning of s 195(1) of the Crimes Act.
Mr Grajewski has taken his case to the High Court of Australia. On 18 May 2018 he was granted special leave to appeal, and the full bench of the High Court heard the appeal on 12 October 2018. For now the Court has reserved its decision, but we will know the result soon.