Legislative change would create a new criminal offence and expand existing offences
The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa has said that legislative changes aimed at protecting first responders and prison officers are well-intentioned but unnecessary.
The comment comes in the peak legal body’s submission on the Protection for First Responders and Prison Officers Bill, which seeks to protect first responders and prison officers by creating a new criminal offence and expanding existing offences.
David Neild, Law Society spokesperson, said that achieving the goal does not need legislative change. The country’s criminal law system already provides protection to first responders and prison officers and the change would add needless confusion and inconsistency, the Law Society said.
“New Zealand’s criminal statutes already include specific offences for assaults on police and other responders, and the courts have a discretion to take the status of the victim – police and prison officers, and emergency health or fire service personnel at emergency scenes – into account as an aggravating factor at sentencing,” Neild said.
The new offence, with a maximum punishment of 10 years; imprisonment, will also add unhelpful complexity to sentencing, the Law Society said.
“It would double the maximum penalty for one type of assault (injuring with intent to injure) but not for other assault offences where the victim is a first responder or prison officer. The Law Society considers this is not justified,” Neild said.
He said that it would be better if a victim’s status is used as an aggravating factor under the current laws. The Law Society also aired its concern on the scope and terminology of the bill, including the justification for limiting the protections to a specific group of “first responders.” The bill would need to be changed with assistance from expert if it should proceed.
The Law Society said that the bill is “fundamentally unnecessary,” recommending that it not be enacted.
“If amendment of New Zealand’s criminal law is considered necessary, the better course would be for the government to introduce a bill so that the reforms can be properly informed by policy analysis from officials and drafting support from experienced parliamentary drafters,” Neild said.