Crimes Amendment (Ramming of Police Vehicles) Bill 2017

I rise to speak on the Crimes Amendment (Ramming of Police Vehicles) Bill 2017, a private members bill introduced by Mr Ed O'Donohue. The bill does the following: it creates a specific offence under the Crimes Act 1958 for ramming a police vehicle and provides for mandatory sentencing of a fixed non-parole period of two years imprisonment unless the court finds that a special reason exists under section 10A of the Sentencing Act 1991.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017 - 8:30am
Speaker:
Sue Pennicuik

Previous DocumentMsNext Document PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — I rise to speak on the Crimes Amendment (Ramming of Police Vehicles) Bill 2017, a private members bill introduced by Mr Ed O'Donohue. The bill does the following: it creates a specific offence under the Crimes Act 1958 for ramming a police vehicle and provides for mandatory sentencing of a fixed non-parole period of two years imprisonment unless the court finds that a special reason exists under section 10A of the Sentencing Act 1991.

Just at the outset I would like to say that the Greens acknowledge the hard work of Victoria Police in serving the community, as we always do. We are deeply concerned that there has been an increase in the number of police vehicles being rammed in Victoria and that in the year 2015–16 14 officers were hurt as a result of a person ramming a police vehicle.

This of course is totally unacceptable but, as I would say, is already a crime under the Crimes Act. This has always been an offence. It has always been illegal to ram a police vehicle. It is not as if the introduction of this particular offence will introduce an offence that was not already there before.

In fact, if you look at the Crimes Act, there are any number of sections providing for offences that people have been charged with and have been sentenced for. The most often used, as I understand it, is section 22 of the Crimes Act:

Conduct endangering life

A person who, without lawful excuse, recklessly engages in conduct that places or may place another person in danger of death is guilty of an indictable offence.

Penalty: Level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum).

But under the Crimes Act there are also other offences that could cover this offence: section 15A, which is 'Causing serious injury intentionally in circumstances of gross violence'; section 15B, 'Causing serious injury recklessly in circumstances of gross violence'; section 16, 'Causing serious injury intentionally'; section 17, 'Causing serious injury recklessly'; and particularly section 318, 'Culpable driving causing death', and section 319, 'Dangerous driving causing death or serious injury'; or section 319AA, 'Dangerous or negligent driving while pursued by police'.

So there are any number of offences under the Crimes Act by which a person who deliberately rams a police vehicle can be charged, and so there is in fact no need for this particular offence. As we have said before in this place, it is not desirable to be cluttering up the Crimes Act or the Summary Offences Act 1966 with such specific offences for which there are already provisions under which people have already been tried, convicted and imprisoned for a particular offence.

It does not make the job of the courts any easier to have a range of provisions for offences that can be used, particularly when you introduce very similar offences to ones that already exist and attach a mandatory minimum sentence to them. As the Law Institute of Victoria, Liberty Victoria and others point out on mandatory sentencing, once you introduce a mandatory sentence then the prospect of people actually pleading guilty to the offence diminishes. That then ties up more court time in having to go through a trial when the person has pleaded not guilty.

As I say, proposals in this bill are not necessary as we already have adequate laws. It is not, as Mr O'Donohue maintains, going to have a deterrent effect. Most people who commit this crime are in the young offender category. They may be affected by substances, which is another offence for which they could be charged as well. They are not likely at the time to be even understanding or thinking about what offence under the Crimes Act they are going to be charged with.

Also, the actual provisions of the bill are problematic. The offence, as drafted in the bill, is too broad. It states that a person 'may be found guilty of an offence' — ramming a police vehicle:

… irrespective of whether—

(a)    any person was in or near the police vehicle concerned when it was rammed …

A person can be charged with ramming a police vehicle when they were not even driving the vehicle, when they were only a passenger or they were not even in the vehicle. It does not stand to reason that a person could be charged with that offence if they were not actually driving the vehicle. You would notice under subsection (3) that:

A person may be found guilty of an offence … irrespective of whether the person was—

(a)    driving; or

(b)   a passenger in; or

(c)    outside—

the vehicle which caused a police vehicle to be rammed.

Then it goes on to say:

In this section, police vehicle means any vehicle driven by a person who is—

(a)    a police officer; and

(b)   driving the vehicle in the course of the police officer's duties as a police officer.

Earlier on it says the offence would carry irrespective of whether 'any person was in or near the police vehicle concerned when it was rammed'. So subsection (2)(a) of the bill conflicts with subsection (4) of the bill. The definition of a police vehicle under the bill says that there must be a police officer in the vehicle, and yet under this bill the offence can be committed whether or not anybody was in the police vehicle, so there are some problems with the drafting of the bill in that respect.

The introduction of mandatory minimum sentencing is our other concern. That would dissuade offenders from pleading guilty. Also, because of the broadness of the scope, capturing a person who may be a passenger or a bystander in the offence, that mandatory minimum sentence for the level of culpability of those different offenders is not appropriate, either. Someone who is actually deliberately driving a vehicle into a police vehicle would be getting a minimum sentence of two years, but someone who was standing nearby and actually had not committed the offence could, under this bill, get the same penalty and has nowhere near the same culpability of the person driving it.

We do not support mandatory minimum sentences and have not supported them in any of the other legislation that has been brought into this Parliament, including for specific assault and serious injury offences such as those committed against emergency workers. This is because, while these offences are appalling, this type of legislation is not the answer, and we should always be preserving judicial discretion and trust our judicial officers to follow the sentencing principles as outlined in the Sentencing Act 1991. Under current laws there is already scope for the courts to impose a harsh sentence where it is warranted for a person ramming a police vehicle, and if a sentence is imposed that is manifestly inadequate, it can be appealed.

Under the terms of the current sentencing practice the most common sentence in the Magistrates Court between 2011 and 2014 for conduct endangering life was 12 to 18 months. This is according to the statistics for that period from the Sentencing Advisory Council. For sentencing in the County Court and the Supreme Court for reckless conduct endangering life matters between July 2010 and June 2015, the most common length of imprisonment imposed was between two and three years. This is well within the mandatory minimum of two years put forward in this bill. So again this demonstrates that there is no need for this bill and there is no need for a mandatory minimum sentence, because the sentences already being applied in the courts are around that level of imprisonment. There is already a maximum of a 10-year penalty that can apply for conduct endangering life.

We do not believe there is a need for another specific offence for ramming a police vehicle, notwithstanding that behaviour is abhorrent behaviour and criminal behaviour already under the Crimes Act. But I also make the point that while ramming a police vehicle is a serious matter so is the ramming of an ambulance, so is the ramming of a fire appliance and so is the ramming of any person's car, particularly, say, a family car with children in it. So I do get concerned when there is this singling out of classes of people and that somehow the crime is worse because they are that class of person.

I would also make the point that under the Sentencing Act principles there are mitigating and aggravating circumstances and that a court would certainly find the ramming of a police vehicle to be an aggravating circumstance, so again there is no need for this legislation and for the singling out of certain types of ramming in particular circumstances. I think the courts are best suited to decide on the circumstances of every case as to what penalty they should apply to an offender and any circumstances of that offence. The Greens will not be supporting this bill.