Random question for the day: where does the tortured language used in newspapers to describe offences with which people have been charged come from?

For example, in this article on 15 January, the SMH wrote of a man accused of raping a woman after hiding in her car’s boot:

“He was charged with aggravated sexual assault, aggravated detain person for advantage, take and drive conveyance and escape police custody.”

Only the first offence is reported in normal English. The remainder are described curiously ungrammatically. The terminology isn’t based — as one might initially suspect — in the language of the Crimes Act. So why use it? To save words/letters? To paraphrase? To create journalistic crime-reporting jargon? Some other reason?

The description doesn’t follow the text of the statute. For example, the relevant provision of the Crimes Act for the second offence is section 86, headed “Kidnapping”. It provides:

(1) Basic offence A person who takes or detains a person, without the person’s consent:
(a) with the intention of holding the person to ransom, or
(b) with the intention of obtaining any other advantage,
is liable to imprisonment for 14 years.

(2) Aggravated offence A person is guilty of an offence under this subsection if:
(a) the person commits an offence under subsection (1) in the company of another person or persons, or
(b) the person commits an offence under subsection (1) and at the time of, or immediately before or after, the commission of the offence, actual bodily harm is occasioned to the alleged victim.
A person convicted of an offence under this subsection is liable to imprisonment for 20 years.

So why not describe the offenceas “aggravated detention of a person with intent to obtain an advantage”? Or “aggravated detention of a person”? Or just “aggravated kidnapping” (which is shorter than the description in the article)?

The provision for the third offence (“take and drive conveyance”) appears to be section 154A, headed “Taking a conveyance without consent of owner”. Subsection 1 states:

Any person who:
(a) without having the consent of the owner or person in lawful possession of a conveyance, takes and drives it, or takes it for the purpose of driving it, or secreting it, or obtaining a reward for its restoration or pretended restoration, or for any other fraudulent purpose, or
(b) knowing that any conveyance has been taken without such consent, drives it or allows himself or herself to be carried in or on it,
shall be deemed to be guilty of larceny and liable to be indicted for that offence.

So why not write “taking and driving a conveyance without consent”? Or “car theft”?

And for the fourth offence, see section 310D, headed “Escaping”, which provides:

Any inmate:

(a) who escapes or attempts to escape from lawful custody, or
(b) who, having been temporarily released from lawful custody, fails to return to lawful custody at the end of the time for which the inmate has been released,
is guilty of an offence.

So again, why not simply say “escaping police custody” or similar? Is it worth saving two letters to use “escape police custody” instead?

It doesn’t seem to be an isolated occurrence. For example, it happened again in the Herald on 18 January:

The man has been charged with possess explosives in a public place and possess a firearm.

The Crimes Act provisions are: section 93FA(1), headed “Possession or making of explosives”, which states “A person who possesses an explosive in a public place is guilty of an offence”, and imposes a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment; and section 93I, headed “Possession of unregistered firearm in public place” which provides:

(1) A person who:
(a) possesses an unregistered firearm in a public place, and
(b) is not authorised under the Firearms Act 1996 to possess the firearm,
is liable to imprisonment for 10 years.

So why not write “possessing explosives in a public place” and “possessing an unregistered firearm in a public place”. (Assuming that the latter was indeed the charge; the article mentions only possession of a firearm, and not the public place element).

Can anyone shed any light on this practice?