O'Farrell defends new booze rules
NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell answers questions regarding new legislation that aims to reduce the alcohol fuelled-violence in Sydney. Nine News.PT2M25S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-317nm 620 349 January 22, 2014
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An 18-year-old with no criminal record is drinking in a bar when a drunken stranger hurls an insult at his girlfriend. After further taunts, the young man hits the stranger, who trips, hits his head on the edge of the bar and dies.
Under the O'Farrell government's proposed new ''one punch'' laws, the alcohol-affected teenager would receive a mandatory minimum sentence of eight years in jail if convicted in court of landing the fatal blow.
Lawyers are concerned by certain aspects of the O'Farrell government's proposed new ''one punch'' laws. Photo: James Brickwood
But a bikie gang member with a history of violence who lies in wait for a rival gang member and punches him in the face, causing him to crack his head on the pavement and die, would not receive a minimum eight-year sentence unless he was affected by alcohol or drugs at the time.
''I would have, over the years, represented any number of people in those sorts of situations,'' said Pauline Wright, the chair of the criminal law committee of the NSW Law Society. ''Quite often, if the injury didn't end up being serious it wouldn't even be reported. It's just the fact of [the victim] falling awkwardly and there was something sharp they hit their head on.''
The centrepiece of Premier Barry O'Farrell's package of laws to target alcohol- and drug-fuelled violence is a new offence for fatal one-punch assaults carrying a mandatory minimum jail term of eight years if alcohol and drugs are involved but no minimum in other cases. The maximum sentences are 20 and 25 years respectively.
President of the Law Society of NSW, Ros Everett: "Let's hope that the court will have the discretion to impose non-parole periods." Photo: Supplied
The government would not confirm on Wednesday if the mandatory minimums would include a non-parole period, reducing the jail time that would have to be served. The bill will be introduced in State Parliament next week.
NSW Law Society president Ros Everett said: ''Let's hope that the court will have the discretion to impose non-parole periods.''
She said the laws were dangerous because judges and magistrates could not take into account whether the offender was mentally ill or had a cognitive impairment.
Lawyers are equally concerned about a separate proposal to impose mandatory minimum sentences for nine existing violent offences if alcohol and drugs are involved, including two years for assault occasioning actual bodily harm and two years for assaulting a police officer.
Jane Sanders, the principal solicitor at the Shopfront Youth Legal Centre, represented an 18-year old in Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court on Tuesday who was placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond and fined $300 for assaulting a police officer.
The young man left school in year 10 and works six days a week to support his parents and seven siblings. Under the new laws, he would have been jailed for at least two years because he was mildly intoxicated at the time.
The magistrate would be unable to take into account that he had fallen asleep in a hotel room during a night out and awoke, confused, when a police officer escorted him from the hotel to join his friends, who had been removed for rowdy behaviour. He pushed the officer in the chest - causing no injury - after he was moved up against a wall.
Ms Sanders said the new laws would encourage more not-guilty pleas because there was no chance of a reduced sentence for an early guilty plea.
She said Commonwealth people-smuggling laws, which carry a mandatory minimum jail term of five years if five or more people are smuggled into the country, had proven unworkable. The Director of Public Prosecutions appeared to have ''made a policy decision'' to use the laws only in the worst cases.