‘One Punch’ legislation commenced in the Northern Territory

Sue Erickson
Northern Territory

During the legislative assembly sittings in November 2012, the Parliament passed the Criminal Code Amendment (Violent Act Causing Death) Act. This Act amends the Criminal Code Act and the Sentencing Act by creating a new criminal offence: if a person engages in conduct involving a violent act to another person, and the act causes the death of that person (or any other person), the defendant is liable to a maximum penalty of 16 years imprisonment. The legislation is intended to ‘close the gap’ in the Criminal Code by creating a charge that can be used when manslaughter is too difficult to prove. The Attorney-General had previously introduced similar bills in November 2011 and March 2012 as the then shadow Attorney-General. The introduction of this legislation was an election promise of the Country Liberal Party, which took power after winning the general election on 25 August 2012.

Similar legislation has been in place in Western Australia since mid-2008, which allows a person to be charged with wrongful assault causing death. A person is responsible for the crime even if the person does not intend the death of the other person. There have been around 12 convictions for wrongful assault causing death in WA to date. The amendments to the Territory legislation have been welcomed by members of the community, especially Amee Meredith, whose husband Brett Meredith was killed as the result of a one-punch assault in Katherine in 2010. Ironically, the trial of Michael Martyn, who assaulted Mr Meredith, resulted in a guilty verdict and a conviction for manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Had Mr Martyn been charged with the new offence of a violent act causing death, he would be subject to a lower maximum sentence.

The new law has been criticised by the Criminal Lawyers Association of the Northern Territory (‘CLANT’), which takes the view that there was ‘no gap’ to fill in the legislation. The legislation commenced on 21 December 2012.

SUE ERICKSON is an Assistant Parliamentary Counsel based in Darwin.

(2013) 38(1) AltLJ 58
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