NT Amends Criminal Code To Expand Definition of Emergency Workers; Introduce Alternative Verdict

Friday 15 March 2019 @ 2.46 p.m. | Crime | Legal Research

The Criminal Code Amendment Bill 2018 ("the Bill") was introduced to the Northern Territory’s Legislative Assembly ("the Assembly") on 31 October 2018, by the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, the Hon Natasha Fyles. The Assembly subsequently referred the Bill to the Social Policy Scrutiny Committee (the “Committee”) for inquiry with a report delivered during December 2018.

The Bill passed the Assembly on 12 March 2019 and is now currently awaiting assent.


As noted in the Bill's Explanatory Speech, by amending the Criminal Code [Act 1983] the Bill’s objectives are:

  • expanding the operation of section 189A providing an offence of assaults on police to include emergency workers such as ambulance officers and firefighters; and
  • providing that section 161A “violent act causing death”, as an alternative verdict to manslaughter in section 316(2).

The Explanatory Speech  further noted that the proposed amendments will only apply to acts committed “after the commencement of this Act”.

Brief Overview of the Amendments

The proposed amendments to the Criminal Code are as follows:

  • inserting new definitions for “emergency worker” to section 1;
  • amending section 187 heading by replacing “definition” with “definitions” as well as inserting a new subsection 187(2);
  • amending section 188A by replacing the existing subsection 188A(4), which excludes police officers from the application of section 188A, with a new subsection which expands the list of persons to whom this section will not apply to include an emergency worker;
  • making amendments to section 189A to provide for an offence of assaulting police or emergency workers;
  • amending section 316 to provide for alternative verdicts for murder or manslaughter by amending subsection 316(2); and
  • inserting a new Division 13 to Part XI, which provides for new sections 458-460.

Inquiry into the Bill

The Committee received submissions from St John Ambulance Australia (NT) Inc, Law Society NT and Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission, all of which sought clarification on the intended operation of the proposed amendments.

The Committee noted that:

“… St John Ambulance Australia (NT) Inc queried whether the term ambulance officer would encompass Patient Transport Officers (PTOs), whereas the Law Society NT and the Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission questioned the inclusion of section 161A as an alternative verdict to manslaughter but not murder … St John Ambulance Australia (NT) Inc. suggested that this definition [of emergency workers] may need to be expanded to include PTO, noting that they are also front line emergency workers on St John NT ambulances …”

After consideration of the issues raised and the evidence received, the Committee recommended the Assembly pass the Bill.

Ministerial Comments

Minister Fyles said in her speech:

“…Emergency workers are also frontline workers, often responding to the same incidents as police officers … Emergency workers will be included so that the same penalties will apply to assaults against them as that which currently applies to assaults against police … This amendment also extends to medical or health practitioners who are accompanying or assisting an ambulance service or a medical or health practitioner …”

Later in her speech, Minister Fyles referred to the need for necessary amendments to the Criminal Code to safeguard police and emergency services personnel:

“… It is proposed to amend this section [section 316(2)] so that section 161A(1) of the Criminal Code is added to the list of offences which may be found as an alternative verdict to manslaughter … the penalties for aggravated assault were insufficient to deal with deaths arising from assaults where death resulted from a ‘onepunch’. The lack of an alternative verdict provision creates a situation where the Director of Public Prosecutions must elect whether to proceed with a charge of manslaughter, or accept a plea against section 161A. This is to avoid the risk of acquittal …”

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Criminal Code Amendment Bill 2018 (NT) - Bill and supporting information available from TimeBase LawOne Service

Inquiry into the Criminal Code Amendment Bill 2018 - Social Policy Scrutiny Committee (NT)

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