Harming a pregnant woman less serious than a policeman - ACT law

5th Apr 2012

Under proposed ACT law it will be considered far more serious to harm a policeman than a pregnant woman, The Australian Lawyers Alliance is warning.

“If the proposed Crimes (Offences Against Police) Amendment Bill 2012 is passed, in eight sub-categories of aggravated offence, it will be considered worse, and therefore attract more jail time, to harm a police officer than it would be a pregnant woman,” ALA spokesman Steven Whybrow said today.

Mr Whybrow, who presented to the Legislative Assembly Inquiry yesterday on both the Crimes (Offences Against Police) Amendment Bill 2012 and the Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 said jail time for crimes against police would increase by 25% under the proposed laws.

“Harsher maximum sentences will be applied when offences are committed against police officers rather than expectant mothers. This will occur for the following offences: threatening to kill, common assault, causing grievous bodily harm, threatening to inflict grievous bodily harm, possession of object with intent to kill, forcible confinement, stalking and affray.

"This is an obvious disparity. Pregnant women are carrying vulnerable life and disregard for that infant, should surely attract more of a penalty than a police officer who has the added protection of capsicum spray, baton, Taser and handgun,” Mr Whybrow said.

The ALA is also concerned about the inflated power imbalance between the public and police that would result, from the proposed legislation, which abolishes an individual’s right to act in self defence or defence of another when police detain or arrest people unlawfully.

“Territorians’ fundamental civil liberties are likely to be seriously eroded under these laws and there would be little recourse for persons subjected to excessive force or unlawful conduct by police,” Mr Whybrow said.

He said such an imbalance of power was unnecessary as existing laws and an already well-armed police force provide police with significant protection.

The Bill’s explanation states that ‘the Bill recognises that some acts of violence are worse than others and that violence against a police officer, in the line of their duty, is a special case that merits particular protections.’

“This contrasts with the ‘previously stated intent of the legislature not to create a class of criminal offence distinguished by the character of the victim, rather than the actions of the offender’,” Mr Whybrow said.

“While specific offences relating to pregnant women also exist, they have been created as a means of protection for an unborn child as well as the mother.

“In sentencing offenders, the courts already take account of any special vulnerability of the victim, whether it be an ambulance officer, an elderly person or intellectually disabled child. The ALA does not believe police officers should be placed in a special category meriting greater protection than all these groups.

"Police are not in a similarly vulnerable group and while the memorandum claims that ‘assaults on police are a matter of pressing concern, and reports cases arising on a regular basis,’ this claim has not been supported with any evidence,” he said.

Tags: ACT Access to justice Criminal justice police powers