Rioting (Tas)

Rioting refers to noisy, uncontrolled, and often violent behaviour by a group of people in a public place. An uncontrolled or unregulated mob is a significant danger to property and people. The Criminal Code Act 1924 prohibits all behaviour or movements that constitutes rioting in Tasmania. It is also a public annoyance offence under the Police Offences Act 1935 for anyone to behave in a riotous manner. Tasmanian courts take a serious stance on this type of offending as it has the potential to lead to property damage and violence. Rioters, police officers and bystanders are likely to be injured in the chaos. This article explains the offence of rioting in Tasmania and the potential sentences.

History of Rioting

Riots are an aggravated form of unlawful assembly. Historically, populations with limited power gathered together to express their political dissent or dissatisfaction with social injustice. Unfortunately, a peaceful demonstration can devolve into criminal behaviour very quickly as mob mentality takes over. In this way, a lawful assembly can become unlawful if it degenerates to the point where it frightens bystanders or prevents people from carrying out their lawful behaviour.

Rioting can also occur in circumstances that are not explicitly politically or socially motivated. For instance, football rioting occurs when fans are emotionally triggered by a sporting win or loss.

Riots are notable for five main characteristics:

  • They are isolated occasions;
  • They are socially constructed;
  • They are typically spontaneous, involving little planning or coordination;
  • The group inflicts harm or damage for a purpose; and
  • There is violence against persons, property or authority.

Legislation

In 1715, the English Parliament passed the Riot Act. This law authorised lethal force if twelve or more people unlawfully assembled and refused to disperse. It gave broad powers to authorities that led to a dramatic decline in riots in the intervening centuries. This English law was repealed in 1973, but it provided the legal framework for similar provisions in Tasmanian legislation.

Tasmanian law explicitly prohibits all participation in riots, including the act of supporting or provoking one. The Criminal Code defines a riot in section 75 to mean a gathering of at least 12 people with a common unlawful purpose. The place of gathering is largely immaterial as long as it impacts members of the public. Still, a person who enters or remains on private property without permission during a riot is also liable for a charge of trespass.

Unlawful Assembly

Rioting is an escalated form of unlawful assembly. An assembly of three or more people is unlawful if:

  • the purpose of the group will cause a reasonable person to fear for their lives;
  • the group intends to prevent an authorised person from executing a lawful action.
  • the actions of the group cause people in the vicinity to fear for their lives;

Riot Proclamation

Obviously, not every gathering of twelve people or more is a riot. The participants must have a common unlawful purpose, and authorities must make a declaration that the gathering is unlawful.

Under the Criminal Code, an authorised person needs to publicly proclaim against a riot before taking any further action. This person must, as safely as possible, command the crowd in a loud voice to immediately and peacefully depart. It is a punishable offence to fail to disperse or disobey a riot proclamation. It is also an offence to violently oppose or assault any person making the proclamation. Any person who does not disperse may be arrested without a warrant on a charge of rioting.

Making this proclamation permits the authorities to take forceable action if the crowd does not disperse. In that case, it is lawful for any authorised person to use necessary force to suppress a riot in reasonable proportion to the danger posed by the continuance of the riot.

The offence of disobeying a lawful proclamation applies when:

  • There are still at least twelve people present after the proclamation;
  • All gathered people continue the proscribed actions;
  • The person did not disperse within an hour of the proclamation; and
  • The person was aware of the proclamation and remained in place.

Rioting offences are usually heard summarily in the Magistrates Court. There is a limitation period on this offence, so any prosecution must happen within twelve months of the crime.

Penalties For Rioting In Tasmania

The offence of rioting carries penalties under Tasmanian law. For instance, a person who contravenes the rioting provision of the Police Offences Act is liable on summary conviction to a maximum of three penalty units or three months imprisonment.  A repeat offender who is convicted within six months of their last conviction is liable to double the prescribed penalty.

The experienced solicitors at Go To Court can assist you with any further questions about the offence of rioting in Tasmania. Please contact or phone 1300 636 846 for legal advice on this or any other matter.

Author

Nicola Bowes

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first-class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade of working in higher education, Nicola joined Armstrong Legal in 2020.
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