Minor Assaults Expected to be Left Out of One-Punch Legislation

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has reportedly watered down new legislation surrounding one-punch attacks.

The first set of one-punch laws came into effect last month, and introduced mandatory sentencing for fatal assaults fuelled by alcohol.

It is now expected that more minor assault offences will be left out of the second set of laws, which are expected to go before NSW Parliament later this week.

What are the main criticisms of mandatory sentencing laws?

The new legislation has been the subject of much debate, and criticism, particularly from legal associations across NSW.

One of the main criticisms of applying mandatory sentencing to all alcohol-fuelled assault charges is that it could potentially overwhelm the prison system in NSW.

Greens MP David Shoebridge and Independent Alex Greenwich have both spoken out against the introduction of mandatory sentencing laws for less serious assault offences, stating that automatically imprisoning offenders for minor as well as major assaults would lead to substantial pressure being put on the prison system and a significant drain on government resources.

There has been a recent backlash in the US against mandatory sentencing, and the strain on resources and the prison system which is likely as a result of mandatory sentencing for all categories of assault.

There have been a number of other criticisms levelled at the new laws.

Mr Greenwich is quoted as stating that mandatory sentencing laws are unfair and are likely to have a greater effect on certain groups, such as the Indigenous community or homeless people, who come into contact with the police more frequently.

Mandatory sentencing is believed to remove the power of a judge or magistrate to determine the most appropriate sentence, which goes against the principles of the criminal justice system in Australia.

Implementing mandatory sentencing laws has also been criticised because it means that the legislation can potentially be used for all minor assault offences, not just drunken one-punch attacks.

What do the revised changes do?

The new watered down laws concentrate on serious assaults and remove the mandatory sentencing element for minor assault charges.

Offences that will now be subject to mandatory sentencing laws include reckless wounding and reckless GBH, as well as assaults against police officers which lead to reckless GBH and wounding.

Under the new legislation, the minimum sentence for reckless GBH in company or assaulting a police officer causing reckless GBH or wounding will be five years in prison.

Reckless GBH or reckless wounding in company will receive a minimum sentence of four years’ imprisonment, while those convicted of reckless wounding will receive a minimum of three years.

As well as introducing mandatory sentences for serious assault offences, the legislation increases the maximum penalty to 16 years for reckless GBH in company, or against a police officer as part of a public disorder incident. Reckless GBH and reckless wounding offences will also see an increase of two years to the maximum sentence.

In order to qualify for the new mandatory sentencing laws, the offences have to have taken place while the alleged offender was under the influence of alcohol, and in a public place.

How effective will the changes be?

Mandatory sentencing laws are believed by many to be ineffective in preventing alcohol-related assaults.

As alcohol impairs judgement, it is unlikely that the possibility of a mandatory prison sentence will act as a deterrent to someone who is intoxicated.

Other countries, including the US and Canada, have not shown mandatory sentencing to be effective in reducing crime levels.

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About Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Specialist Criminal Lawyer and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers, Sydney's leading firm of criminal and traffic defence lawyers.
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