The amendment arose following the Full Court of the Supreme Court’s decision in R v Yusoff  SCNT 43, (278 FLR 116) on a referred question of law. This decision held that provided the driver of a vehicle a) stopped the vehicle after an accident and b) rendered assistance to a person who may have suffered death or serious harm, they will have sufficiently discharged their obligations. The Full Court held the provisions of the Criminal Code made no other reference to providing assistance to authorities, or to remaining with the body of a deceased. Providing obligations a) and b) were satisfied, a person would not be criminally liable under the hit and run provisions.
Section 174FA of the Criminal Code now contains a number of additional provisions. These relate to the provision of information to the Police, and require persons involved in motor vehicle accidents where a person has suffered serious harm or death to:
- stop the vehicle at the scene of the incident;
- give any assistance to the person that is reasonable in the circumstances;
- as soon as reasonably practicable after the incident or after giving the assistance mentioned in subparagraph (ii) – notify a representative of the Police Force of the following:
- that the incident has occurred;
- the location of the incident;
- that the driver was the driver of the vehicle involved in the incident;
- the driver’s name;
- comply with any reasonable direction given by a representative of the Police Force in relation to the incident.
The maximum penalties for failure to perform these tasks are 10 years imprisonment for the death of a person, or 7 years imprisonment if the person suffers serious harm.
Offence provisions for drivers failing to notify of a motor vehicle accident are already contained in Rule 287 of the Australian Road Rules, which has been encapsulated in Regulation 19 of the Traffic Regulations (Northern Territory). However these provisions only relate to situations where injury or damage has been caused, not death. Therefore, prior to the amendment, it was possible for the driver of a vehicle to stop, determine that as the person struck by the vehicle was deceased and no further assistance could be offered, to continue on without committing an offence. In a remote area, this might mean the driver of the vehicle might never be identified. It might also mean a deceased’s body could remain at the scene of the incident for some time before being located.
In the case of the 9-year-old boy, there are a number of other offences available to Northern Territory prosecutors, including aggravated reckless endangerment of life, and manslaughter.
RUTH BREBNER is a lawyer with the Solicitor for the Northern Territory.