Looting during natural disasters
With the recent floods hitting Queensland, we thought that now would be a timely reminder about the laws relating to looting.
The offence of looting is considered to be a special case of stealing. What makes looting different to an 'ordinary' offence of stealing is that the theft of items takes place during either a natural disaster, civil unrest or an industrial dispute. Looting can also occur where the thing stolen is left unattended by the death or incapacity of the person in possession of the property.
In practical terms, this means that even if property appears to be lost or abandoned due to the floods, or any other natural disaster, you are not entitled to take it for your own benefit. There is no "finders keepers" law that applies to these situations.
If you are convicted of looting, the court will treat you harshly and more than likely impose a significant punishment which could include imprisonment. The actual maximum penalty that applies to the offence of looting is 10 years' imprisonment, although such a lengthy period of imprisonment would only be reserved for the absolute worst category of offenders.
If you need assistance during the floods, there are many government agencies that may be able to assist you and you should make contact with these agencies for aid.