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Law Assignment: Critical Evaluation of Sentencing Amendment Act 2014 (Vic)


Task: In 2014, the Sentencing Amendment (Coward’s Punch Manslaughter and Other Matters) Act 2014 (Vic) came into effect. The Act amended the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) to include a provision requiring that all cases of manslaughter by unlawful and dangerous act involving a single punch or strike to a victim’s head or neck, which causes injury to the head or neck, automatically constitutes a ‘dangerous act’.

The Act also amended the Sentencing Act 1991 to require that all cases of manslaughter involving a single punch or strike attract a statutory minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment. The legislation came about in response to a series of high-profile ‘one-punch’ assaults and campaigns around alcohol-fueled violence. Your task is to critically evaluate the Sentencing Amendment (Coward’s Punch Manslaughter and Other Matters) Act 2014 (Vic). Is the legislation desirable, effective, too far reaching

This is a law assignment. You are required to undertake your own research in respect of the relevant Victorian legislation. You need to find appropriate sources that support your discussion of the posed question and reference them adequately. Solely relying on newspaper articles is not sufficient. You should also consider academic articles, any relevant case law, submissions to government inquiries, government reports, and Parliamentary debates (Hansard). Undertaking individual research evidenced by appropriate referencing attracts overall a maximum of 10 marks. Your individual research must be evidenced by appropriate referencing in the AGLC4 Style.


Herein law assignment, critically evaluate the Sentencing Amendment (Coward’s Punch Manslaughter and Other Matters) Act 2014 (Vic). Is the legislation desirable, effective, too far reaching

One-punch offenses can be prosecuted and penalized in accordance with Victoria's laws. Justice can nonetheless be served in these cases despite the fact that Victoria does not have a specific one-punch law. As of now, it is unclear whether the current revisions would quell community dissatisfaction with the way laws are applied and criminals sentenced. Perhaps it's time to look at what's causing these crimes in the first place, so we can do something about it. There is a good chance that education on the dangers of alcohol-related violence and behavioral adjustments among younger generations will help prevent one-punch crimes from occurring in many cases.

Because of the ferocity and force of a single punch, an assault swiftly degenerates into a more heinous offense. Concerns concerning the applicability of existing legislation to these offences arose in Victoria, Australia. When a victim was punched, there was little evidence that the offender had the aim of killing him or her. As a result, it became impossible to prosecute the perpetrators for reckless murder. The high standard that must be met — that the assailant could subjectively predict the likelihood of causing serious injury or death to the victim — is rarely demonstrated in such random and absurd attacks. The attackers would argue that they had no idea that a single punch could have such a devastating effect on the victim.

Noteworthy debate and law reform action in Victoria has been sparked by the sufficiency or otherwise of legal remedies to “one-punch” homicides. There was a resurgence of interest in this topic after David Hookes' death in 2004, which was sparked by a number of incidents of unprovoked violent violence involving young guys in and near licensed establishments. Victoria's Liberal government passed a new law in 2014.

• In all cases involving manslaughter by unlawful and dangerous conduct including a single punch or hit delivered to the victim's head or neck, which inflicts head or neck injuries, inherently constitute a dangerous act.; (Section 4A, Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)).

• The Sentencing Act should be amended so that all manslaughter cases by a single blow, or manslaughter in conditions of gross violence, should be subject to a minimum term of imprisonment for 10 years. (Coward's Punch Manslaughter and other Matters) Act 2014).
The reforms were designed to keep young people away from committing violent acts while under the influence of alcohol and to safeguard the community from the tragedies that could result from their actions. Victims' advocacy groups and the Victorian legal community have varied feelings about the revisions in the immediate aftermath of their introduction. One-punch homicide can be described as the act of a single hit by a person resulting in victim’s death either instantly or during a period of hospitalizationand the word is used throughout this article. Additionally, this type of behavior has been called a "king hit," a "coward's punch," and societal violence that results in murder by various advocacy groups or political representatives in the media. One-punch deaths in Australia were shown to be most common in public drinking establishments such as hotels and bars between 2000 and 2012, with young males (both as the offender and the prey) engaging in combat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. As a result of this tendency, the bulk of community discontent and policy care has concentrated on the perpetration of one-punch deadly assaults in this setting to date.

Casual acts of violence, mainly perpetrated by men, near nightclubs have come to be associated with the term "alcohol-fueled violence" during the past few years, which encompasses many different types of alcohol-related violence. It's critical, though, that talks about violence in other contexts don't dismiss that fact. Particular attention must be paid to violence against intimate partners and other family members that takes place in private areas. Women and children are victims of domestic violence at considerably higher rates than men, and alcohol has long been blamed as a contributing cause. A number of relevant, gendered abusive behaviors perpetrated both publicly and privately must be recognized in alcohol-related violence advocacy and research efforts.
There has been much debate and law reform action in Victoria and other States of Australia about the sufficiency of legal responses to "one-punch" homicides. These issues came to light after the cricketer David Hookes died in 2004, but they really took off after several high-profile incidents of drunken, unprovoked violence involving young men in and around licensed establishments in the decade that followed. On New Year's Eve in 2012, the death of David Cassai provoked widespread public outrage over the alleged lenientpunishment to perpetrator, further igniting political discussion over how the law ought to respond to such violence.

One-punch homicide offenders face harsher penalties in Victoria than in any other Australian state. Australian state and territory governments have been debating how to respond to one-punch deadly violence for the past ten years. Reforms have been implemented in a wide variety of areas. Assault and intoxication-related deaths were made illegal under the Crimes and Other Legislation Amendment (Assault and Intoxication) Act 2014.A new one-punch murder law was implemented in the Northern Territory and NSW, in November 2012 and February 2014. It's clear that despite all the attention paid to one-punch homicides by the national media, there is no generally agreed strategy to criminal law reform across Australia. Some states have created new offenses, while others have implemented sentencing modifications.

Despite extensive media coverage of high-profile incidents and the implementation of significant legislation, not much is known regarding how one-punch homicides were addressed by law in Victoria before the 2014 revisions were implemented. As a result of this lack of information, there is a lack of comprehension of how cases were resolved in terms of convictions and sentencing, and this is problematic. It is impossible to judge the 2014 legislation if one does not know how the law worked before it was changed. Because of this, it's far more difficult to establish whether the reforms are having the desired effect and to spot any unforeseen consequences. Making matters worse, there was no formal public engagement in Victoria prior to their adoption (as in WA and NSW) and no referral to the Victorian Law Reform Commission for in-depth study. Legal practitioners' experiences in one-punch murder cases, as well as important stakeholders' views on existing practices, the 2014 revisions, and anticipated future reforms in this area of law have thus far been poorly understood.
With three new provisions added to the amending act, a statutory minimum sentence of 10 years was mandated for all manslaughter cases involving only one punch or strike, or for manslaughter in cases involving gross violence. This sparked the most noteworthy debate about legal responses to such killings. Studies on mandatory sentencing in Australia and around the world have provided a rich foundation for understanding various points of view. A number of Australian jurisdictions have introduced mandatory minimum sentencing provisions over the past two decades, as illustrated by the reforms in Victoria.With the stated objective of increasing penalties, discouraging future criminals, and ensuring uniformity in the sentencing of particularly severe forms of violent and serious crime, mandatory minimums have been regularly imposed.Compelling evidence shows that mandatory sentencing regimes are ineffective in deterring crime or fostering public trust in the criminal justice system.

This part of the revisions was regarded by legal practitioners as 'stupid quite honestly', 'knee jerk, unreasonable, unjustified' reform and'slightly weird'. One argument against the revisions is that one punch manslaughter is singled out from other forms of manslaughter. There are several factors that go into determining the gravity of a crime in each situation. In my opinion, it's really difficult to come up with a mandatory punishment regime that specifically targets one item. One feature of it elevates it to a level of evil unmatched by any other form of criminal activity.

A significant argument for mandating at least 10 years in jail for one-punch homicide homicides was made by those who believed that prior to the 2014 amendments, sentencing in these instances had been both inconsistent and overly light. Previously, lenient sentencing procedures had produced a situation in which the only solution was to force judges to increase the periods being imposed in certain situations, according to the following remark (by passing a mandatory term). “We don't need minimums if sentence is tough enough. They don't go far enough... So, what is the answer The question is, how can we honor the victims without imposing obligatory minimum sentences
How can the precedent, parity, and mistakes that have been made be corrected What do we do now that we're stuck in a bog”
Critics of the obligatory minimum penalty, on the other hand, argued that the law put defendants at danger of unfair sentences. For example, one lawyer was concerned that the statute implies that a punch from behind is always deemed to be more dangerous than one thrown face to face by defining circumstances that attract a mandatory minimum sentence. Conclusion: Alcohol-fueled violence has been around for a long time, as seen by the participant quote above. Violence and alcohol have long been tied to Australian manhood in a way that isn't captured by the recent spate of headlines about one-punch homicide and other alcohol-related violence. To be clear, this is not meant to downplay the gravity of the most recent assaults, but rather to demonstrate the persistence of the problem and the necessity of a comprehensive response that addresses the root causes of Australia's culture of violence (Fitz-Gibbon, 2014c). Education and increased public awareness are essential if we are to affect a desired cultural shift.

The overwhelming consensus among those interviewed for this study was that a better understanding of "what works" in legal remedies to single-punch homicide must be ensured. There was a dearth of evidence to establish whether or not changes were needed at the time, as well as a lack of data to assess their long-term effects after only a short period had passed after their adoption, save from the considerable research done by Quilter. Both of these observations point to the necessity of increased research in this area, not only in Victoria but also across the country as a whole. There will be no basis for effective and efficient legal change if this area of the law is not thoroughly researched and examined through legal analysis.

As aggravating circumstances in cases of manslaughter, the proposed provisions rank above manslaughter but below murder in the offense hierarchy. Unlike manslaughter, while the maximum penalty is the same, one-punch manslaughter has a mandatory minimum non-parole duration of 10 years, which places it above manslaughter because the average non-parole period for convictions related to manslaughter varies between five and seven years. The Sentencing Amendment (Baseline Penalties) Act 2014 mandates a minimum term of 25 years for murder, but there are no mandatory minimum sentences for other fatal offenses.

It is mandatory that the minimum penalty for "coward punch" manslaughter, in which the victim dies from a single, direct blow to the head or neck, be at least 10 years. An eight-year prison term is now required for anyone who commit an alcohol or drug-fuelled attack that results in death, after similar legislation in NSW. It is also said that mandatory sentence, on the other hand, is not going to stop or discourage “coward punch” assaults. Opportunistic crimes are those committed with little or no attention given to the consequences of their actions. For those who have been drinking or taking drugs, this is especially true.

Even though this law has yet to take effect, the legal profession has already expressed their displeasure. Mandatory punishment is opposed by opponents who point out that it fails to take into consideration the circumstances of the offense, deters and rehabilitate criminals, and is used in a biased manner. Experts at Monash University believe that the new regulation was passed in response to public and political concerns about one-punch killings rather than a clearly defined legal vacuum. It establishes a form of mandatory punishment. Additionally, it is in line with what the courts are already doing (which is to impose lengthy prison terms for certain offenses), but it does away with the courts' discretion.

1 Ball, R. (2012) Human Rights Implications of ‘unlawful assault causing death’ laws: Briefing Paper. Melbourne: Human Rights Law Centre
2 DPP v Closter [2014] VSC 484
3 DPP v Townsend [2015] VSC 456
4 DPP v Akoteu [2010] VSC 364
5 Bartels, L. (2009) Suspended sentences – a judicial perspective, Queensland University of Technology Law and Justice Journal, 9: 44-63.
6 DPP v Closter [2014] VSC 484
7 Cullen, J. (2014) WA’s “One-Punch” law: Solution to a complex social problem or easy way out for perpetrators of domestic violence. Griffith Journal of Law and Human Dignity, 2: 52-77
8 McNamara, L. and Quilter, J. (2016) The bikie effect and other forms of demonisation: the origins and effects of hyper-criminalisation. Law in Context, 34(2): 5-35

Ball, R. (2012) Human Rights Implications of ‘unlawful assault causing death’ laws: Briefing Paper. Melbourne: Human Rights Law Centre
Bartels, L. (2009) Suspended sentences – a judicial perspective, Queensland University of Technology Law and Justice Journal, 9: 44-63.
Cullen, J. (2014) WA’s “One-Punch” law: Solution to a complex social problem or easy way out for perpetrators of domestic violence. Law assignmentGriffith Journal of Law and Human Dignity, 2: 52-77 McNamara, L. and Quilter, J. (2016) The bikie effect and other forms of demonisation: the origins and effects of hyper-criminalisation. Law in Context, 34(2): 5-35

Case Law
DPP v Akoteu [2010] VSC 364
DPP v Closter [2014] VSC 484
DPP v Closter [2014] VSC 484
DPP v Townsend [2015] VSC 456


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