Under s 93T of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), it is an offence to participate in a criminal group. S 93T was introduced in 2006 in a raft of reforms to criminalise gang participation and related activity following the Cronulla riots. According to the NSW Parliament, the offences were enacted in recognition “that crimes committed by gangs, whether they be crimes of violence, armed robberies or drug supply offences, are a far greater threat to the safety and wellbeing of the community than most crimes committed by individuals acting alone”.
What is a criminal group?
A criminal group is defined as a group of 3 or more people who have an objective to:
- obtain material benefits from conduct that constitutes a serious indictable offence, or
- commit serious violence offences, such as conduct resulting in the loss of life or serious risk to life, serious injury (or risk of injury) to a person, serious damage to property in which a person’s safety is endangered, or perverting the course of justice in relation to such conduct.
When is it an offence to participate in a criminal group?
Participating in a criminal group is against the law if you know, or ought reasonably to know that it is a criminal group, or that your participation in the group contributes to criminal activity. The maximum penalty for participating is 5 years’ imprisonment.
However, if you direct any of the activities of the group, the maximum penalty doubles to 10 years’ imprisonment. The penalty increases further if you direct a group and the activities of the group are organised or ongoing.
In November last year, the NSW Parliament amended the law to state that you can still be classed as participating in a criminal group even if you are not a member of the group.
Specific offences committed as part of a criminal group
While it is an offence to simply ‘participate’ in a criminal group, the law also provides penalties for certain conduct of groups.
Destroying or damaging property belonging to another person, intending by that action to participate in a criminal activity of such a group, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment, while assaulting a law enforcement officer (in the same circumstances) carries 14 years’ imprisonment.
If you receive material benefit derived from criminal activities of the group, knowing that it is a criminal group, a maximum penalty of 5 years’ imprisonment can apply.
Recruiting people to engage in criminal activity
Under s 351A of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), it is also an offence to recruit people to engage in criminal activity. The maximum penalty is 7 years’ imprisonment. The maximum penalty increases to 10 years’ imprisonment if you recruit a child to participate in criminal activity.