Archive for the ‘Criminal law’ Category

I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Greg

March 3, 2010

The Herald reports that Police Association President Greg O’Connor is calling on the judiciary to start convicting people for insulting police to help counter a culture of disrespect. According to Mr O’Connor, such disrespect leads to assaults on police officers. Apparently yelling “bugger off” to a cop is OK but if one yells “f*ck off pigs”, the police should arrest you and charge you with insulting behaviour.

Where to start?

First, where is the evidence for the claim that a “culture of disrespect for the law leads to assaults on officers”? Many professions are held in low regard by the public, used car salesmen to use a cliched example, but people don’t generally go around assaulting them. There might be more assaults taking place against the police but in the absence of evidence of causation, I’m skeptical that a lack of respect for the police is the cause of this.

Second, it seems to me that Mr O’Connor confuses “respect for the law” with the fear of being arbitrarily arrested for using colourful language in bars. Respect is earned through the way the police conduct themselves when they carry out their admittedly difficult duties. It is not enforced through the threat of arrest. If the threat of being arrested for insulting the police leads to respect for the law and police officers, such respect must have been high indeed in the former Soviet states.

Third, Mr O’Connor seems to think that it is appropriate for the police to tell judges how cases should be decided:

He is in discussions with Police Commissioner Howard Broad to approach the judiciary with a strategic plan to improve respect for the law.

“It requires District Court judges to agree – in copybook cases – that they will convict people who are arrested for insulting behaviour.”

Perhaps the rate of convictions for this type of offending is low because the Supreme Court has said that the provisions in question raise free speech questions. And perhaps Mr O’Connor would like to reflect on the separation of powers and the appropriateness of part of the executive branch of government telling the judiciary how to decide cases.

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Assaulting a police officer

February 22, 2010

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.