The NSW one punch law has recently been put to the test with the first person being charged under the controversial new legislation, which the government says seems to be working in the fight to reduce alcohol-fuelled violence on Sydney streets.
The first case
Sydney man Hugh Garth was charged with assault occasioning death after allegations of drunkenly punching victim Raynor Manalad at a party in western Sydney in May.
Garth was refused bail for the second time on September 15 after appealing to the Supreme Court.
The reasons given for not granting bail were mainly due to the large penalty he was likely to face as a result of the new laws, and the fact that home detention wouldn’t be enough to prevent him absconding.
His lawyer stated that his client would be willing to put himself under house arrest and submit to regular drug and alcohol testing, and also put forward the fact that his girlfriend was pregnant with their first child.
Acting Justice Anthony Blackmore refused bail due to the risk of Garth absconding, and also because of his history of violent offences, which it’s believed would make him more of a risk to the community.
The NSW one punch laws were brought into effect at the beginning of the year after widespread campaigning by parents and friends of victims of previous alcohol-fuelled assaults.
These laws, brought in by the Crimes and Other Legislation Amendment (Assault and Intoxication) Act 2014, state that if found guilty, Garth will face a minimum prison term of eight years.
The maximum prison sentence is 25 years.
Mr Manalad was a nursing student graduate who died after allegedly intervening in an argument between Garth and his girlfriend.
Garth allegedly punched him, and he hit his head on the footpath. Mr Manalad later died from severe head injuries.
Families of other one punch attack victims have campaigned at length for harsher sentencing and mandatory prison sentences for those found guilty of random alcohol-fuelled attacks.
When Kieran Loveridge was found guilty of manslaughter for the alcohol-fuelled king hit death of teenager Thomas Kelly in Kings Cross and sentenced to four years in jail, there was a great deal of community outrage.
After the mandatory sentencing laws were passed, Loveridge’s original sentence was increased to seven years’ imprisonment on appeal by the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions.
One punch mandatory sentencing criticised
When they were brought in earlier this year, the one punch mandatory sentencing laws came under a great deal of criticism from civil liberties groups and legal bodies.
Complaints have ranged from concerns that increased penalisation will clog up the courts and the legal system, to questions as to whether members of the indigenous community will be unfairly targeted.
Using alcohol as a mitigating factor is unlikely to act as a deterrent as people who are intoxicated aren’t going to be able to think clearly and rationally.
The new laws mean that someone who assaults another person while impaired through alcohol, and without necessarily having the intention of killing them, will receive a harsher sentence than someone who commits the same act sober and in a rational mindset.
Government backs the effectiveness of new laws
Despite the criticism, NSW Attorney General Brad Hazzard has defended the one punch laws.
He believes that the new laws are working, and that the Sydney CBD has calmed down since the one punch laws along with increased liquor licensing restrictions were implemented.
At a meeting with a group of lawyers in Wollongong, Mr Hazzard said there had been a “massive reduction in violence” since the introduction of the legislation.
He said that he has friends in the police service and hospital system, who had told him that things had quietened down in their view as well.
With no prospect of bail, Hugh Garth will remain in custody until his matter goes to court.
As this is the first case of its kind under the new laws, it’s unclear what the likely outcome will be.
It is expected that Mr Garth’s legal team may rely upon the defence of self-defence as a witness at the party allegedly saw Mr Manalad grab Mr Garth’s shirt just prior to the incident taking place.