Threat offences – most notably threats to kill or seriously injure another person – are common and serious. They often occur in breach of court orders, and are frequently linked to family violence and a variety of other offences. To date, however, they have received little attention as a discrete form of offending.
This report investigates five threat offences: threat to kill and threat to inflict serious injury (and their Commonwealth counterparts), threat to destroy or damage property, threat to commit a sexual offence, and threat to assault an emergency worker. Their maximum penalties are between five and 10 years’ imprisonment.
Research suggests that these types of threats not only cause immediate fear to victims but also often involve further and ongoing harms (such as limiting victims’ freedom of choice). They also indicate a risk that the offender will commit violence. These harms are particularly acute when the threatener and the victim are in a close relationship.
A review of case law shows that courts are aware of the harms and risks associated with threat offences. A threat is considered more objectively serious when it is made in person, is explicit, is premeditated, involves a breach of trust, involves the use of a weapon, has had a severe effect on the victim or is supported by circumstances suggesting the threat will be carried out. Courts have also especially recognised the severity of threats in the context of family violence, where such threats are often a breach of trust made in the context of coercive control and associated with a real risk of further offending.