Controversial new legislation surrounding one-punch sentencing is now law after being pushed through NSW Parliament late last month in a special sitting. The new legislation mandates a minimum sentence of eight years for a drug or alcohol-fuelled assault that results in death, with a maximum of 25 years. The new law also removes the requirement to prove an attacker knew the punch would be fatal.
The legislation came into effect at the weekend, after the NSW Government moved quickly on the issue amid community outrage at the number of recent fatal alcohol-related assaults in Sydney. But while the community has welcomed the new law, critics maintain that mandatory sentencing doesn’t work.
There have been a number of deaths as a result of one-punch attacks, in particular that of Sydney teenagers Thomas Kelly, who died after being hit on a night out in Sydney’s Kings Cross in 2012, and Daniel Christie, whose life support was switched off nearly two weeks after he was the victim of an alleged king hit in the same area on New Year’s Eve.
19-year-old Kieran Loveridge was convicted of manslaughter for the random and unprovoked attack on Thomas Kelly, and was jailed for at least four years with a maximum of six years, a sentence that horrified Mr Kelly’s parents. Loveridge was also sentenced another 18 months for four other assaults he committed on the same night. In Daniel Christie’s case, 25-year-old mixed martial arts fighter Shaun McNeil is facing five assault charges relating to the alleged incident.
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell said after the legislation passed on January 30 that the “consequences couldn’t be any clearer for thugs.” He also defended mandatory sentencing, saying it was time the judiciary reviewed the sentences being handed down.
“The NSW Government has today sent the strongest possible message on behalf of the community – drug and alcohol-fuelled violence won’t be tolerated anywhere in NSW,” he said in a government press release.
While the new legislation has been widely supported by the public and the NSW Opposition, some organisations see it as nothing more than a political quick fix; a hasty reaction after pressure and public outcry. Organisations such as the NSW Bar Association and the Law Society of NSW believe the laws have not been properly considered, and will result in disproportionate sentences for those who are convicted.
NSW Bar Association President Phillip Boulton SC said there is no evidence that mandatory sentencing actually decreases crime levels. “…It has the ability to act unfairly on vulnerable and disadvantaged groups,” he told the ABC.
“It isn’t effective, it’s not a deterrent, it just leads to more people being locked up for no good purpose.”
In addition to the new one-punch law, the legislation includes a number of other measures to tackle the issue of alcohol-related violence. Police will also now have the power to conduct drug and alcohol testing if they believe a drug or alcohol-fuelled assault has taken place.
They will be able to immediately ban troublemakers from the Sydney CBD, and the fine for disorderly conduct has been increased from $200 to $1,100. Fines for offensive language and offensive behaviour have also been increased.
From late April, licensed venues in part of the Sydney CBD will have to lock out new customers from 1.30am, and serve last drinks at 3am. Bottle shops state-wide will also be required to close their doors at 10pm. Venues will be subject to a risk-based licensing scheme whereby higher fees will be imposed on venues that trade later, are larger, or are in high risk areas.
“This is not about penalising responsible drinkers,” Mr O’Farrell told the Sydney Morning Herald. “It is about attacking the irresponsible acts of those who allow themselves to be intoxicated, whether by drugs or alcohol.” Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore welcomed the reforms, but warned that they could push violence into neighbouring areas, unless 24-hour transport systems were improved.