Issues Paper released concerning penalties for assaults on public officers
An Issues Paper reviewing penalties for assaults on public officers has identified that 9,061 offenders have been sentenced in Queensland courts for serious assault in the past 10 years under section 340 of the Criminal Code (Qld).
Released by the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, the Issues Paper is in response to Terms of Reference referred by the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, the Honourable Yvette D’Ath MP, in December 2019, asking the Council to review penalties for assaults on police and other frontline emergency service workers, corrective service officers and other public officers and to advise of any options for reform.
The Issues Paper profiles assaults on public officers including how common they are, who commits them and their impact on victims, along with the current offence, penalty and sentencing framework in Queensland, sentencing outcomes for serious assaults on public officers and the approach in other jurisdictions.
Council Chair, John Robertson, said the Council is encouraging community members and stakeholders including the Queensland Police Service, Queensland Ambulance Service, Queensland Corrective Services, Queensland Health, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, the judiciary, legal profession, employee unions and others, to consider the issues raised in the paper and to provide feedback.
“Recent events with the emergence of the coronavirus, have highlighted just what a critical role our frontline officers play in performing essential tasks and keeping our communities safe,” Mr Robertson said.
“The Terms of Reference ask the Council to advise whether our current legal responses to assaults on these workers are appropriate, with particular focus on the current offence and sentencing framework.
“The Council is also considering how to best respond to the needs of victims, and strategies to better inform the community about sentencing for these offences,” he said.
The Terms of Reference recognise that assaults on public officers continue to raise concern for the safe working environment of these officers given the inherent dangers they face in undertaking their roles, as well as the adequacy of penalties imposed on offenders convicted of these offences.
“Some occupational groups – such as police and corrective services officers – are trained and prepared to manage conflict and aggression, while others such as health care workers, paramedics, teachers, public transport workers – are not equipped or are less equipped, nor should they expect to meet violence in their role,” Mr Robertson said.
“Regardless of the work or the position of the officer, violence should never be accepted as ‘part of the job’, even for those who are trained to respond,” he said.
Mr Robertson, a retired judge, said interested stakeholders are invited to consider the questions posed throughout the Issues Paper which considers relevant literature about these offences, and presents sentencing statistics and trends over time.
A separate literature review undertaken by the Griffith Criminology Institute is also being published on the Council’s website to provide the academic context within which this work is being undertaken.
Key findings include:
- Magistrates Courts deal with the majority of serious assault cases (89.8 per cent). Of cases sentenced in these courts, over half (54.5 per cent) of non-aggravated serious assaults result in a custodial sentence with an average custodial sentence of 0.6 years or just over 7 months. Three in four sentences for serious assault with aggravating circumstances (74.8 per cent) are custodial, with an average sentence length of 0.7 years or 8.4 months. For cases sentenced in the higher courts, the proportion of custodial penalties is even higher for aggravated serious assault at 93.0 per cent, with an average sentence length of 1.1 years.
- of adult and juvenile cases (most serious offence - MSO) sentenced between 2009–10 and 2018–19 in the higher and lower courts, the serious assault of a police officer was, by far, the most common type of serious assault, accounting for 65.4 per cent of cases sentenced under section 340 of the Criminal Code. The second most frequently sentenced type of serious assault involved people aged 60 years and over (16.8 per cent), while public officers were the third largest category (9.8 per cent).
- the majority of offenders sentenced for the serious assault of a public officer (MSO) under section 340 of the Criminal Code were male (69.6 per cent), non-Indigenous (62.0 per cent) and were relatively young (median age 26.5 years). When compared to all acts intended to cause injury, these statistics show that female offenders were more likely to be sentenced for a serious assault (30.4 per cent) compared to other acts intended to cause injury (23.7 per cent). There is also a higher proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are sentenced for a serious assault (32.2 per cent) compared to other acts intended to cause injury (18.5 per cent).
Mr Robertson said the Issues Paper is an opportunity for organisations and people to share their views on what is an important issue however, how those views are collected will now change due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Following health advice concerning COVID-19 and the need for social distancing, we are inviting feedback from stakeholders through written submissions, and will hold meetings and consultation sessions by video or by telephone rather than in person,” Mr Robertson said.
The Council is due to report back to the Attorney-General by 31 August 2020.
Written feedback is encouraged by close of business, Thursday 25 June 2020, and can be emailed to the Council at firstname.lastname@example.org
or posted to
Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council
GPO Box 2360
Brisbane QLD 4001
More information about the Terms of Reference considering penalties for assaults on police and other frontline emergency service workers, corrective service officers and other public officers can be found on the Council’s website.