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.