People pass by a painted outline of a dead body in Athens
The lack of a physical victim doesn't mean people can do whatever they like and ignore laws.

Sovereign citizen a deluded victim of legal fantasy

Nik Dirga December 29, 2022

A crime is only a crime if there is a victim.


False. Australian law does not require a crime to have a victim or injured party.

A crime does not need a victim to be considered illegal, despite what “sovereign citizens” are telling Australian police when pulled over for driving offences.

In a Facebook video (screenshot here), a man in South Australia is stopped for driving an unregistered vehicle, but refuses to accept police authority.

He cites sovereign citizen theories when refusing to comply. “The law that you say is not a law,” the man says (video mark 2min 36sec). When told he will be arrested, he says: “It’s not a crime. Where is the victim?” (video mark 2min 53sec).

In sharing the video, the poster repeats the claim, stating: “A crime needs a victim. Where is the victim?”

A screenshot of the Facebook video and post.
 The belief a crime needs a victim is not getting much support from police and the courts. 

Legal experts told AAP FactCheck the claim that a crime needs a victim, or an injured party, isn’t backed up by Australian law, calling the views of sovereign citizens “pseudo-legal arguments”.

The sovereign citizen movement originated with US anti-government groups in the 1970s and believes its members are “immune” from government rules and can refuse to accept enforcement of the law.

Christopher Corns, a legal professor at La Trobe University, told AAP FactCheck the post’s claim was false.

“It is legally incorrect that for a crime to be a crime there must be a victim,” Dr Corns said in an email.

Harry Hobbs, a law lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney who has researched and discussed sovereign citizens, also said the claim had no substance.

“There is no requirement under any Australian law (state or federal) that a crime must have an injured party,” Dr Hobbs told AAP FactCheck in an email.

A Queensland police officer gestures for a motorist.
 Legal experts say there’s no requirement in Australian law that a crime must have an injured party. 

Dr Hobbs said there was no legal basis in claiming a law was not a law or you “do not consent”, as the man in the video repeatedly states.

“There is also no requirement that you must consent to a law before it operates upon you. If you are in Australia you must abide by all laws that have been passed by the parliament and have received Royal Assent,” he said.

Dr Hobbs said there were many examples of so-called “victimless” crimes including drug possession and use.

Dr Corns cited the Victorian Crimes Act 1958, which includes categories such as conspiracy (page 339), incitement (page 345) and attempts (page 351), which he said “do not require a victim.”

He said there were also “hundreds of ‘regulatory’ criminal offences or ‘strict liability’ offences where the offender does not even need to have a specific intention (Mens Rea) and there does not need to be a victim”.

A police officer monitors traffic with radar
 Preventive laws aim to reduce risks through licensing, registration and rules such as speed limits. 

Tim Prenzler, a criminologist at the University of the Sunshine Coast, said many offences were aimed at preventing harm to others rather than a specific victim.

“There is a large body of law which is preventive in terms of reducing risk through licensing, registration, operating rules and other forms of regulation,” Professor Prenzler told AAP FactCheck in an email.

“You could say that the breaches or crimes that occur under this type of legislation are ‘victimless’, in that there are no direct victims, but lots of people were probably potential victims – of dangerous driving for example.”

US law enforcement has warned about the dangers of the sovereign citizen movement and police have been killed at traffic stops.

A 2015 NSW Police report called the movement a “potential terrorist threat” and the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a rise in groups in Australia.

In a 2021 Queensland District Court decision, a judge dismissed a sovereign citizen’s straw man argument in a drug possession case, calling it “nonsense”.

Sovereign citizen traffic stop cases similar to the one in the Facebook video have also failed in court in the United States and New Zealand.

A car crashed into a cemetery (file image)
 Just because no living person suffers doesn’t mean no crime or offence has been committed. 

Sovereign citizen adherents have described their beliefs as a “get out of jail free” card, but Dr Hobbs said that was fantasy.

“It connects neatly with the other pseudo-legal nonsense about the law being a contract, that the state law is defective in some way, etc. It does not work and will likely only lead to more problems for people who invoke it as a get out of jail free card.”

AAP FactCheck has previously debunked another claim about traffic laws from the same Facebook user.

The Verdict

The claim that a crime needs a victim is false. There is no requirement for a criminal charge to have a victim under Australian law.

Legal experts told AAP FactCheck there are numerous preventative offences to stop a crime occurring such as drug possession and traffic laws such as driving unlicensed. There are also “victimless” crimes such conspiracy, incitement and attempts at crime.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

* AAP FactCheck is an accredited member of the International Fact-Checking Network. To keep up with our latest fact checks, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

All information, text and images included on the AAP Websites is for personal use only and may not be re-written, copied, re-sold or re-distributed, framed, linked, shared onto social media or otherwise used whether for compensation of any kind or not, unless you have the prior written permission of AAP. For more information, please refer to our standard terms and conditions.