What the prosecution must prove.
The prosecution must prove that:
1. The defendant set fire to the property;
2. The defendant did so wilfully;
3. The defendant did so unlawfully.
What it means.
There must be some burning. Mere scorching or charring is not sufficient. Setting fire is any act which causes a building to set fire and is not limited to direct application of a flame.
The offence relates only to specific property, a building or structure, a motor vehicle, train or vessel, a mine or stacks of vegetable produce or fuel or mines. Burning someone’s clothes or paperwork is covered by the criminal offence of Wilful Damage.
The prosecution must prove an actual intention to set fire to the property or an awareness that the property’s catching fire was a likely consequence and a choice to act regardless of the risk.
An act in relation to property is unlawful if it is done without the consent of the owner. An interest in the property as a co-owner does not make the act lawful.
An act done to property with an intention to commit a fraud, for example burning a car to make a false insurance claim is unlawful. The act is still unlawful even if the defendant is the sole owner of the property.
The usual penalties.
The maximum penalty for the criminal offence of Arson is life imprisonment.
The maximum penalty is a poor numerical indicator of sentences usually imposed. It plays a very important role in setting the seriousness of an offence. The maximum penalty is hardly ever imposed.
It is important to seek expert advice before dealing with a criminal offence of Arson.
Factors that affect the appropriate penalty include the value of the loss or damage to property, the motive, and the level of planning.