The societal and legal issue of alcohol fueled violence and ‘one punch’ assaults has led to legislative change in a number of jurisdictions.
This post brings together relevant information about current and proposed ‘one punch’ laws in Australia. Click on the links below to view material for the relevant jurisdiction:
- New South Wales
- Australian Capital Territory
- Northern Territory and Western Australia
- South Australia
There has been some academic exploration of the issue more broadly. Julia Quilter of the University of Wollongong discusses the issues in NSW in her 2014 paper on one punch laws and the implications for NSW Criminal Law. Liam Burke in the University of Queensland Law Review analyses the historical data in his paper examining assaults in Queensland in 2006-2009. Sue Erickson, Assistant Parliamentary Counsel in Darwin wrote a short explanation of the law in the Northern Territory and Western Australia in 2012.
New South Wales
Recent ‘one punch’ alcohol fueled assaults and community concern about an escalation in violence in the CBD/Kings Cross area of Sydney in 2013/14 led to the NSW Government introducing a new offence of assault causing death.
- RoLIA’s booklet on Mandatory Sentencing in NSW – this booklet examines the new offence of assault causing death legislated in NSW
- RoLIA Board Member and Former NSW DPP Nicholas Cowdery discusses mandatory sentencing and ‘one punch’ assaults in NSW
- The Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation was established by the family of a victim of a ‘one punch’ assault and is working at raising community awareness of this issue
- NSW Attorney General Brad Hazzard claims the ‘one punch’ laws are achieving their objective of reducing assaults
The Queensland Government has recently introduced the Safe Night Out Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 which includes a new criminal offence of unlawful striking causing death.
- The Safe Night Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 was passed by the Queensland Parliament on the 26th of August and adds a new section 302A to the Criminal Code which provides that a person who unlawfully strikes another person to the head or neck, causing the death of the other person, is guilty of crime and introduces a minimum non-parole period for manslaughter offences of 80% of the head sentence or 15 years
- Crime Stoppers in Queensland is part of a community campaign to raise awareness of the issue in Queensland
- An article in the Sunshine Coast Daily discusses a number of cases of ‘one punch’ assaults in 2014.
Australian Capital Territory
The ACT Government have stated, as of August 2014, that they are not planning to legislate specifically for ‘one punch’ assaults.
- Australian Wallabies player Nic White discusses his experience of being a victim of a ‘one punch’ assault in Canberra in 2012
- Byrne v The Queen  ACTCA 31 is a recent ACT Court of Appeal decision which highlights the issue of intoxication and ‘self-defence’ in ‘one punch’ cases
- The ACT Government Attorney-General Simon Corbell has stated that ‘one punch’ assaults can be dealt with under current ACT legislation
Northern Territory and Western Australia
- Section 161A of the Criminal Code Act (NT) defines conduct involving a violent act as conduct involving the direct application of force of a violent nature to a person such as a direct hit, with a maximum sentence of 16 years imprisonment
- Section 281 of the Criminal Code Compilation Act 1913(WA) sets out an offence that states that “if a person unlawfully assaults another who dies as a direct or indirect result of the assault, the person is guilty of a crime and is liable to imprisonment for 10 years”
Recently the Victorian government has introduced the Sentencing Amendment (Coward’s Punch Manslaughter and Other Matters) Bill 2014 (Vic) in which manslaughter – single punch or strike – is taken to be a dangerous act under a new section 4A of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) and amends the Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) to introduce a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years for manslaughter and gross violence offences under certain circumstances. The Victorian Parliament is scheduled to vote on the Bill on the 2nd of September 2014.
- This ABC News article details a number of historic ‘one punch’ cases in Victoria and puts forward an argument for a legal response from victims groups
- SBS News quotes a Victorian police officer discussing the toll and scale of ‘one punch’ attacks
- A Law Institute of Victoria Media Release has expressed concern at the imposition of a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years
There has been considerable discussion in South Australia about the impact of ‘one punch’ assaults and intoxication and possible legislative responses to the issue.
- The South Australian Law Society has expressed it’s concern about the use of mandatory sentences for ‘one punch’ attacks
- Family First Legislative Council MP Robert Brokenshire has recently tabled the Criminal Law Consolidation (Assaults Causing Death) Amendment Bill 2014 which proposes the same offence and sentencing regime as NSW with the notable difference of the law applying to offenders aged 16 years or more at the time of the offence. As of the 7th of August 2014 the bill had yet to pass.
- South Australian Attorney-General John Rau expresses his view in this article that the bill is not required in South Australia