Drones in Australian Courts: 5 cases where drones have assisted…

Published: 14 June 2019

The drones are in our skies, in our hands, and now in our Courts.

See 5 examples, and a bonus NZ case, where drone footage has been used in evidence in our judicial system…

[1] ‘Like a sandstone cowboy…’

This case in the Supreme Court of NSW involved the harvesting of sandstone in Pyrmont, Sydney. The sandstone was to then be sold to the NSW Government to repair and maintain the fancy sandstone public buildings in Sydney.

There was a dispute between the demolition and excavation party, and the team who harvested the sandstone. Evidence given by the demolition and excavation party included photographs taken by a drone of large numbers of sandstone blocks.

The company that harvested the sandstone was ordered to pay the demolition and excavation work company for unpaid royalties on the sandstone.

[2] Landfill standstill

In this case in the Land and Environment Court of NSW, a Council sought to stop a company from continuing to use a certain piece of land for landfill in excess of that permitted by the Council (Land).

Part of the Council’s evidence included photos taken by a drone showing landfill on the Land in excess of the amount allowed by Council.

The Company raised an objection as to the use of images from the drone footage on the basis that the images may not have been legally obtained in compliance with drone regulations and therefore should be inadmissible. The Court queried the truth of the objection, indicating that even on a superficial analysis it would appear that many of the drone shots were taken outside the Land, most probably from a vantage point over the Council’s own public reserves.

The Company dropped its objection to the drone footage and the footage was allowed.

The Court ordered the Company to immediately cease the importation and depositing of any material on the Land until further order.

[3] How’s the view…

In another Land and Environment Court of NSW matter, Sydney City Council denied a development application to increase the area of an existing 5th storey so that it extended to the boundary, and the addition of a roof top terrace.

The Council denied the DA on the  basis that there would be an obstruction of the view.

The developer appealed the decision and in the appeal, drone photography was used to assist in the assessment of any impact on the view as a result of the proposal.

The appeal was was successful and the DA could go ahead.

[4] You shall pass!

In a Supreme Court of NSW matter, the Applicants and the Respondent owned neighbouring properties adjacent to the Richmond River in the Northern Rivers region of NSW. The Applicants sought an order for the creation of an easement (right to cross) of carriageway over the Respondent’s land because they say it was reasonably necessary for the use and development of a portion of their land.

The party seeking the easement used photographs derived from drone footage to illustrate the options by which the easement may be created. The Court noted that the drone footage was “very useful in understanding the topography of the relevant areas”.

The path of the easement was debated but overall, an easement was granted.

[5] ‘He reckons powerlines are a reminder of man’s ability to generate electricity’

In a matter in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Optus sought to construct a telecommunications facility in Gisborne Victoria comprising a 35-metre high monopole with antennae mounted on a triangular headframe.

Council refused the application saying that the proposed facility will have an unacceptable visual impact on the area. The respondents, some concerned local citizens, supported the Council’s position, saying that there is no need for a new facility and that the proposal will dominate the surrounding properties and the broader area including views to and from Mt Gisborne.

The respondents provided drone footage of the area to demonstrate the nature of the rural landscape.

While the planning permit was granted, the Tribunal required a reduction in overall height and the use of a slimline monopole with flat headframe.

[6] Drones could have prevented a tragedy.

And now a BONUS case from our cousins across the Tasman…

A matter in the New Zealand Coroners Court concerned an inquest into an unfortunate set of events in New Zealand. Some tourists were swimming in a popular area of the Waikato River, known as the Aratiatia Rapids. These Rapids form part of the spillway of the Aratiatia Dam. The Dam is required to open four times a day during summer as a “tourist spill”. Before the opening of the Dam, a siren would warn at regular intervals.

On this occasion, the dam flood gates were opened at the scheduled time, following which rapids approached a group of swimmers. Some of the group who were on a small rock in the middle of the rapids were swept downstream. One person attempted to help another member of her group by jumping into the water. Sadly, she drowned.

This matter was referred to the Coroners Court.

One of the Coroner’s recommendations was that consideration be given to implementing a system of inspection of the area before any “tourist spills” are released. There could be a physical check of the area before water is released and the use of a drone could be considered.


What a fantastic reminder of #dronesforgood. I say “giddy-up!”, with drones helping our courts to make better decisions and as a result, better judgments. Drones are  a great technology, and like all technologies, offer opportunities and risks. It is the balancing of these that will play out in our skies and eventually, in our Courts.

Fly free!

The Drone Lawyer

14 June 2019.