What is Skye’s Law? The Law of Police Pursuit in NSW

The offence of Police Pursuit in NSW is a serious offence punishable by lengthy licence disqualifications and potential sentences of imprisonment. In 2010, the NSW Government introduced the Crimes Amendment (Police Pursuits) Bill. This legislation was introduced following the death of young Skye Sassine when a car being chased by Police slammed into another vehicle on the M5 Motorway on 31 December 2009.

The Tragedy on the M5 Motorway

On 31 December 2009, 19-month-old Skye Sassine was a passenger in her parents’ car when an armed robber lead Police on a high-speed chase on the M5 Motorway in Sydney. The armed robber had been involved in several armed robberies in the lead up to the horror crash including robbing two bottle shops in Peakhurst and East Hills in the hour before the high-speed Police pursuit. The offender slammed into the back of the car in which Skye was a passenger whilst trying to evade the Police, resulting in Skye being killed.

What is Skye’s Law?

Following the tragic death of Skye Sassine, the NSW Parliament acted swiftly to deter individuals who engage in police pursuits by introducing the Crimes Amendment (Police Pursuits) Bill 2010. Section 51B was introduced to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) creating the offence of Police Pursuit. This new offence targeted people who participate in police pursuits while driving in a reckless or dangerous manner and carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment, with a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment applying in the case of repeat offenders. Lengthy licence disqualification provisions, including an automatic disqualification of three years for a first offence and five years if it is an offender’s second or subsequent major traffic offence within a five-year period were also introduced.

What is the Offence of Police Pursuit in NSW?

The offence of Police Pursuit located in Section 51B of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) is framed as follows:

The driver of a vehicle:

  1. Who knows, ought reasonably to know or has reasonable grounds to suspect that police officers are in pursuit of the vehicle and the driver is required to stop the vehicle;
  2. Who does not stop the vehicle;
  3. Who then drives the vehicle recklessly or at a speed or in a manner dangerous to others

Is guilty of an offence.

Each of the above elements must be proved beyond reasonable doubt in order for a person to be guilty of this offence.

Potential Defences to an offence of Police Pursuit in NSW

As each element of the offence must be proved beyond reasonable doubt, situations can arise where potential ‘defences’ can be raised. For instance, a person may not have known, ought reasonably to have known, or had reasonable grounds to suspect that her or she was being pulled over by Police. Additionally, if the conduct of the driver in failing to stop after being pulled over by the Police did not amount to driving their vehicle recklessly, or at a speed or in a manner dangerous to others, the offence of Police Pursuit will not be able to be established. In those circumstances, a lesser offence of Failing to Comply with Direction (to stop vehicle) pursuant to Section 39 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW) could instead be preferred. Other defences at law may also apply depending on the circumstances of a particular case.

Practical Implications

The offence of Police Pursuit is a serious one and the risk of a prison sentence often looms large. It is important that the circumstances and evidence of each case be carefully examined by an experienced criminal defence lawyer. Situations arise where the Police cannot prove the offence beyond reasonable doubt, or in the circumstances, a lesser charge may be warranted in the circumstances. Police also often over charge offenders, including several other offences which may be duplicitous and need to be withdrawn. It is therefore important that you consult with an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible after you have been charged with an offence of Police Pursuit.

The content contained within this guide is expressed as a general guide as to this area of law and is not intended to contain legal advice specific to an individual’s case. If you, or someone you know has been charged with a Police Pursuit and requires legal advice, do not hesitate to contact Australian Lawyers and Advocates to discuss any criminal law matters further.

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