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29 Nov 2017

Criminal Law Consolidation (Assaults Causing Death) Amendment Bill

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 24 February 2016.)

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN (00:31): I rise to speak to the Criminal Law Consolidation (Assaults Causing Death) Amendment Bill. The bill was introduced by the Hon. Robert Brokenshire on 24 February 2016 and mirrors an earlier bill he tabled in the parliament back in 2014. Whilst the Liberal Party appreciates and acknowledges the motivations of the Hon. Robert Brokenshire in introducing this bill, we will not be supporting it. We will support the second reading, but we will not support the third.

The bill seeks to introduce a mandatory minimum sentence of eight years’ imprisonment, and a maximum of 25 years, for any offender who commits an assault whilst intoxicated, which causes the death of a victim. The minimum sentence of imprisonment cannot be reduced or mitigated in any way whatsoever.

Experience in other jurisdictions has shown that introducing mandatory minimum sentences does not curtail the prevalence of the crimes it is aimed at. Further, it can also create difficulties in the justice system. For example, in New South Wales, legislation similar to this bill before the chamber was passed in 2014. It has had far-reaching unintended consequences, which in one case saw a 15-year-old boy charged with the accidental death of his younger brother.

Likewise, the Northern Territory introduced mandatory sentences for property offences back in 1997. However, after attracting national attention and criticism, including from the United Nations, these laws were repealed in 2001. Of particular note, there was actually an increase in property offences in the Northern Territory while those laws were in place. It is extremely important that we in South Australia learn from the experiences in other jurisdictions.

Furthermore, it is equally important to acknowledge that juvenile persons with mental illness or a cognitive impairment, and Indigenous members of our community, are often disproportionately impacted by mandatory sentencing. Indeed, Indigenous overrepresentation in our prison system is highest in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, where mandatory sentences have operated the longest.

This is one of the many reasons why the Law Council of Australia called for the abolition of mandatory sentencing, claiming its abolition would help close the gap in Indigenous overrepresentation in the prison system. Whilst these laws may seem like an attractive and simple solution to combating particular crimes, experience has shown that they are not the answer.

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