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QSAC recommends harsher penalties for assaults on public officers

The Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council (QSAC) has called for simplification of the Criminal Code (the code) and harsher penalties for the offence of serious assault under section 340 of the code.

After a nine-month inquiry into penalties for assaults on police and other frontline workers, including corrective services officers and other public officers, QSAC’s final report was released today to the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Yvette D’Ath.

The council’s proposed changes acknowledge the unique vulnerability of people in frontline occupations and why they need more protection.

QSAC Chair John Robertson said that, even after 16 amendments since 1988, section 340 of the code still required significant change.

“We found speaking to stakeholders who represented everyone from medical professionals and corrective services officers, first responders such as fire fighters, police and paramedics, to transport workers and teachers, that there is confusion about what workers are protected under section 340, and how offences under this section should be charged,” Mr Robertson said.

“No matter what their job is – everyone has a right to feel safe in the workplace and shouldn’t be worried about being assaulted.”

The proposals see the scope of public officers change, excluding transit officers, fisheries, inspectors, local government employees and public-school employees, and extend to other occupations such as taxi, Uber and public transport drivers.

“That aggravating factor would apply to any other Queensland offence that involves violence and physical harm – charges could apply to include common assault, assault occasioning bodily harm, wounding, grievous bodily harm and acts intended to cause grievous bodily harm and other malicious acts,” Mr Robertson said.

He said COVID-19 also influenced the recommendations, in exposing the risk of assault posed to various other occupations, such as retail workers.

“The COVID-19 pandemic in recent months has heightened our awareness of the risks of assault posed to retail workers and we found a belief among some industries that, because section 340 does not expressly capture their workers, when an assault has occurred at work, it will not be treated as more serious unless that particular job or industry is expressly listed in legislation,” he said.

Mr Robertson recommended the changes be adopted as a package and said he hoped they would help simplify the justice system, the legal profession and the community.

“What the council has done through its 13 recommendations is distinguish the increased seriousness of an assault on those who jobs are designed to protect the community and respond to emergencies, and acknowledge for all other workers the right to be able to do their job safely knowing they too, are recognised under the law.”

Read the QSAC final report.

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