Just what is ‘Wilful damage’
Article by Michael Purcell, Senior Criminal Lawyer
Have you ever wondered what someone needs to do to attract a charge of ‘Wilful damage’? Recent charges where people have spat or thrown eggs on cars, where no other damage was caused other than requiring the car to be cleaned have caused Courts concern.
Recently, the High Court in Grajewski v DPP (NSW)  HCA 8 allowed an appeal and quashed the appellant’s conviction and sentence for the offence of intentionally or recklessly destroying or damaging property belonging to another, contrary to s 195(1)(a) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).Although the appeal is from a New South Wales Court, the decision of the High Court has application to Queensland.
During a protest, the appellant climbed onto a ship loader, which was shut down due to safety concerns. The appellant used a harness and rope to lock himself to the ship loader and lowered himself into a position which posed a risk of serious harm to him. The ship loader remained inoperable until the appellant was removed. This was a period of around two hours. The appellant was charged with an offence against s 195(1)(a), particularised as doing “damage [to] property causing the temporary impairment of the working machinery” of the ship loader. He was convicted of this offence before the Local Court at Newcastle.
The Mr Grajewski appealed to the High Court. By majority, the Court held that damage to property within the meaning of s 195(1) requires proof that a person’s act or omission has occasioned some alteration to the physical integrity of the property, even if only temporarily. The Court reasoned that the physical integrity of the thing is not altered in any respect. It held that nothing in the authorities justified an interpretation of the expression “destroys or damages” in s 195(1) as extending to conduct which does not in any respect alter the physical integrity of the thing said to be damaged. Here, the ship loader was shut down because of safety concerns, not because the appellant had brought about any alteration to its physical integrity. This alters the views adopted in Queensland by our Court of Appeal since 1983.
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While this article is intended to provide you with a guide of the general principles that operate in Queensland, it is not to be considered legal advice and may not cover important aspects that apply to your individual circumstances. If you want to apply for a work licence or are unsure if you are eligible, you should seek our advice.