The NSW Police Force has released body camera vision of an officer being physically and verbally assaulted following an incident in Hamilton South. This, and similar other attacks, have prompted the NSW Attorney-General to call for a review into the sentencing of police and emergency worker assaults, saying there are “few more disgraceful acts.”
What is the offence of Assaulting a Police Officer?
Per Section 60 of the Crimes Act 1900, there are a number of offences relating to police officers in the execution of their duty.
Under subsection (1) it is an offence for a person to assault, throw a missile at, stalk, harass or intimidate a police officer while in the execution of the officer’s duty, although no actual bodily harm is occasioned to the officer.
To be convicted of an offence under section 60(1), it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt that a person:
- Assaulted; threw a missile at; stalked; harassed or intimidated a person;
- That person was a police officer; and
- That officer was in the execution of their duty at the time of the assault.
The maximum penalty for this offence is imprisonment for 5 years.
An aggravated form of this offence is contained in section 60(1A), where the above actions are demonstrated during a public disorder.
Convicted felons can be sent a gaol sentence for assaulting a police officer.
The maximum penalty for this offence is imprisonment for 7 years.
Where the injury is sustained to a police officer, the penalties are increased. If an action or assault causes actual bodily harm to the Police Officer the maximum penalty is imprisonment for 7 years or, if it occurs during a public disorder, imprisonment for 9 years
If an action or assault causes grievous bodily harm to the Police Officer the maximum penalty is imprisonment for 12 years or, if it occurs during a public disorder, imprisonment for 14 years.
When will a person’s actions constitute an Assault of a Police Officer in Execution of Their Duties?
Whilst a slight touch may constitute an ‘assault’, the Police will generally not charge a person unless there is a significant degree of force applied. For example, punching, kicking, pushing or spitting on a Police Officer would constitute an assault.
Examples of offences under this section include:
- Kicking, punching or pushing a police officer to stop them arresting you or someone you know;
- Threatening a police officer who is arresting you or interviewing you as part of an investigation; and
- Seeking out, and threatening or assaulting, a police officer when they are off duty.
Does this offence only apply when a Police Officer is on duty?
There are circumstances in which an offence under this section can be made out even if the officer was not on duty at the time. These are:
- If the assault occurred as a consequence of or in retaliation for actions taken whilst the officer was in execution of their duty; or
- If the assault occurred because that person is a police officer.
NSW Sentencing Council Review into Assaults on emergency services workers
The NSW Sentencing Council will review the current sentencing guidelines for such offences and recommend reforms, examining recent trends in frontline worker assaults, extending to incidents involving assaults on police officers, correctional staff, youth justice officers, emergency services workers and health workers. In doing so, the Sentencing Council, led by former Royal Commission Chair and NSW Judge of Appeal, the Hon Peter McClellan AM QC, will consider:
- Recent trends in assaults on these workers and in sentencing decisions;
- Characteristics of offenders, including characteristics of reoffending offenders;
- Sentencing options to deter this behaviour;
- Sentencing options to reduce reoffending;
- A comparison of NSW sentencing decisions for assaults on these workers with equivalent sentencing decisions in other Australian jurisdictions;
- A comparison of NSW sentencing decisions for assaults on these workers with equivalent sentencing decisions for assaults generally;
- Sentencing principles applied by NSW courts; and
- Any other matter the Council considers relevant.
Submissions will close on 30 September 2020.