Assaulting a police officer

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The Herald is reporting that the government is considering “creating a special category of offence for assault on a police officer”. Colin Espiner has blogged on the issue here, saying it creates a “dangerous precedent”.

It is actually already a separate offence, under the Summary Offences Act 1981, to assault a police officer:

Every person is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding $4,000 who assaults any constable, or any prison officer, or any traffic officer, acting in the execution of his duty.

At present the penalty is actually lower than the penalty for common assault under the Crimes Act 1961, which is 1 year of imprisonment. So it seems that the real debate is about increasing the existing penalty rather than creating a new offence.

Assault isn’t the only offence where police officers are treated differently. At present it is a separate offence to use a firearm against a police officer in the course of his or her duty. The penalty for that offence is 14 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for discharging a firearm against any person is also 14 years’ but that offence requires the prosecution to prove that the accused acted with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. The prosecution doesn’t have to prove that in the case of using a firearm against a police officer, so there is an advantage to the prosecution charging this offence.

Update: After writing the above post I read the comments on Espiner’s blog. One commenter there points out that section 104(f) of the Sentencing Act 2002 is another example of treating offending against police officers differently.  It imposes a minimum period of imprisonment of 17 years for murder where the victim was a police officer acting in the course of his or her duty.

In addition section 192(2) of the Crimes Act makes it an offence to assault a police officer acting in the course of his or her duty with intent to obstruct the officer in the execution of his or her duty. The penalty for this offence is 3 years’ imprisonment.

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