The legality of buying, selling or possessing lock picking tools depends on upon the characterisation that is ascribed to the behaviour of the person who is in possession of the tools at a particular point in time. At present, there is no uniform body of law that addresses this issue at the federal level and as such regard must be had to the stated based legislation. At the state level, the possession of lock-picking tool is dealt with (either directly or peripherally) by the following acts:

  • Crimes Act 1900 (NSW);
  • Crimes Act 1958 (VIC);
  • Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA);
  • Criminal Code 2002 (ACT);
  • Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (WA);
  • Criminal Code 1899 (QLD) and the Summary Offences Act 2005 (QLD);
  • Criminal Code Act 1924 (TAS); and
  • Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT).

Offences of Strict Liability

The above acts can be grouped into two categories:

  1. strict liability offences – New South Wales and Victoria; and
  2. offences that require an element of negligence or intent before ascribing liability – South Australia, Australian Capital Territory, Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

The Law

The relevant legislative extracts are as follows:

NSW: Section 114(1)(b) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)) carries the maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment. Possessing any housebreaking or safe breaking tools is illegal.

Victoria: Section 91(1) of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) carries the maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment. Possessing any item in connection with a burglary, theft or cheat is illegal when not at home.

South Australia: Section 270C(1) of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) does not permit being in the possession of any item connected to an offence of burglary, serious criminal trespass, certain motor vehicle offences, damage and destruction of property. The maximum penalty for such offences can be as severe as life imprisonment.

Australian Capital Territory: Section 315(1) of the Criminal Code 2002 (ACT) sets out that where a person has an instrument outside their home with the intent to use it to steal or thief, this will be considered an offence.

Western Australia: Section 407(c)&(d) of the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (WA) does not permit any person holding an instrument of housebreaking without a lawful excuse. The maximum penalty is three years imprisonment.

Northern Territory: Holding any explosive substance or any dangerous or noxious thing with intent to commit a crime is considered an offence under Section 281 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT)). The maximum penalty is five years imprisonment.

Tasmania: Being in possession of any dangerous or offensive weapon or instrument, with intent to commit a crime or without lawful excuse is an offence under Section 248 of the Criminal Code Act 1924 (TAS).

Queensland: Where a person is in possession of any dangerous or offensive weapon or instrument, or a noxious substance, and with intent to break or enter a dwelling or premises, is considered an offence. Section 425(1) of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (QLD) also prohibits having a person’s face masked or blackened or being otherwise disguised, with intent to commit an offence. The maximum penalty is three years imprisonment.

In addition, Section 15 of the Summary Offences Act 2005 (QLD) sets a penalty of one-year imprisonment where a person possesses an instrument that will aid in the unlawful entering of a place or vehicle or to unlawfully injure a person or damage property.

Key Takeaways

If you would like to know more about the legality of purchasing, selling or possessing lock-picking implements or tools, get in touch with our lawyers.

Vanja Simic

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