Law Society of Tasmania opposes proposed mandatory sentencing for assaults on off-duty police

LEGISLATION: Proposed changes to sentencing laws this week would see mandatory minimum sentences for serious assaults on off-duty police.
LEGISLATION: Proposed changes to sentencing laws this week would see mandatory minimum sentences for serious assaults on off-duty police.

The state’s peak representation for lawyers does not agree mandatory sentencing would solve the problem of assaults on off-duty police officers.

Law Society of Tasmania president Rohan Foon said the body had “long opposed” mandatory sentencing and stood by its position in relation to an announcement from Police Minister Rene Hidding on Wednesday.

Mr Hidding said the state government would amend sentencing laws to include a six-month minimum mandatory sentence for offenders who knowingly target off-duty police officers and carry out “serious” assaults. 

The proposed change followed calls from The Examiner for more protection for police after an officer was coward-punched while at a pub on his night off – the attack was considered common assault, with the officer receiving minor injuries.

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Mr Foon said, however, mandatory sentencing was not the appropriate answer.

“We support evidence-based change to sentencing law … there’s no evidence that mandatory sentencing deters offending,” he said.

“The incident that occurred in the North that’s given rise to the calls wouldn’t itself fall under the proposed legislative change.”

Mr Foon said parliament could instead “create separate offences which provide higher terms than ordinary common assaults”.

“We obviously believe everyone in the community, including police officers, deserve to be protected but that doesn’t extend to imposing mandatory sentences on people,” he said.

MLC Ivan Dean.

MLC Ivan Dean.

A similar message has been voiced by MLC and former Tasmania Police Commander Ivan Dean, who previously shared his support for more protection for off-duty officers.

A police officer for 35 years, Mr Dean said it was a “quick reaction” from the government that would only “build up false hope” for officers.

“Police are entitled to protection, their job is hard enough … what concerns me is that the government know they are going to struggle to get that legislation through,” he said.

“Why try and bash your head against a brick wall? They could have a separate penalty, a very steep penalty, under the Police Offences Act. I urge the government to look at another way.”