Law changes being proposed to provide protection for first responders and prison officers are well-intentioned, but New Zealand’s criminal law system already provides this protection.
The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa says these changes would add unnecessary confusion and inconsistency.
The Law Society has presented its submission on the Protection for First Responders and Prison Officers Bill to Parliament’s Justice select committee, saying the member’s bill is unnecessary and should not proceed.
“The bill seeks to provide greater protection to first responders and prison officers, by creating a new criminal offence and expanding existing offences. While this is an understandable aim, it is not necessary to amend legislation to achieve it,” Law Society spokesperson David Neild says.
“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”, Mr Neild says.
The Law Society says the new offence, with a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment, would also introduce unnecessary and unhelpful complexity in sentencing.
“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,” Mr Neild says.
“It would be preferable to use the current legislative mechanisms to treat the victim’s status as a first responder or prison officer as an aggravating factor, which can then be applied to the full spectrum of assault charges”.
The Law Society also questioned the bill’s scope and terminology, including the justification for limiting the protections to a specific group of ‘first responders’. If the bill is to proceed, advice and drafting assistance will be needed to ensure the law changes are in fact fit for purpose.
“However, the Law Society considers the bill is fundamentally unnecessary and recommends 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,” Mr Neild says.