On 17 December 2014, Tasmania joined the other States who have passed mandatory sentencing laws for assault on police officers by assenting the Sentencing Amendment (Assaults on Police Officers) Act 2014 (No. 26 of 2014), which also commenced on 17 December 2014. This Act introduces a minimum mandatory sentence of 6 months imprisonment for a person convicted of an offence against an on duty police officer that results in the officer suffering serious bodily harm, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
The Sentencing Amendment (Assaults on Police Officers) Act 2014 (the Act) introduces a minimum mandatory sentence of 6 months imprisonment for a person convicted of an offence against an on duty police officer, meaning serious assaults on police will carry a minimum six-month jail term.
The penalty is not restricted to persons charged with specific offences or crimes such as “assaulting a police officer” as is found at section 34B of the Police Offences Act 1935 or “resisting a public officer” under section 114 of the Criminal Code Act 1924. This means that a person convicted of an offence generally considered more serious than a simple assault, such as wounding or grievous bodily harm, will also be given the mandatory sentence as an absolute minimum. The mandatory penalty will only apply where the offence has resulted in serious bodily harm. This ensures that the penalty will not apply if the assault for which the offender was convicted was relatively minor and resulted in slight injuries.
The Police Association's Pat Allen said a violent incident on Hobart's waterfront four years ago highlighted the need for the sentences:
"[The offender] walked around and punched the male police officer in the face, while his arms were folded and he wasn't looking in his direction, he nearly put him through a glass door...That person [the offender] didn't even get jail for it."
The legislation includes an exceptional circumstances clause but Matthew Verney from the Law Society said it is not flexible enough. Mr Verney said mandatory minimum penalties are misguided in removing judicial discretion:
"There've been 13 matters before the Supreme Court under the relevant criminal code provision, 11 of those have received immediate custodial sentences...That's as a result of the court properly taking account of all of the relevant circumstances. The court now won't have that opportunity."
Seven jurisdictions have mandatory sentencing laws currently, however, only NSW, NT, SA and WA currently have mandatory sentencing laws regarding assault of police officers.
New South Wales
Crimes Amendment (Murder of Police Officers) Act 2011 (NSW), which inserted section 19B into the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW):
Sentencing Amendment (Violent Offences) Act 2008 (NT)
Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act 1988 (SA)
Criminal Code Amendment Act 2009 (WA) – extended to youth custodial officers in 2013 (Criminal Code Amendment Act (No. 2) 2013 (WA)):
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Sentencing Amendment (Assaults on Police Officers) Act 2014 (No. 26) as reproduced on TimeBase LawOne including Bill, Second Reading Speech and Explanatory materials
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