'Flawed and failed': alcohol laws hit hurdle

Police will be empowered by new one-punch laws from this weekend, but Premier Barry O'Farrell may have to battle to get his next tranche of legislation to curb alcohol-fuelled violence through Parliament.

On Thursday the Labor opposition supported the introduction of laws that create a new offence of hitting a person and causing their death. If fuelled by alcohol, the offence will carry a non-parole period of eight years and a maximum jail sentence of 25 years. If alcohol is not involved, the maximum will be 20 years.

But it is less certain that Labor will support broader legislation to introduce mandatory sentences for assault causing serious injury.

Shadow attorney-general Paul Lynch said: ''Labor views mandatory sentencing with considerable reservations.'' He has described it as ''flawed and failed policy''.

Opposition Leader John Robertson said he would not give the government a ''blank cheque'' to bring about the new laws, to be introduced by the end of this month.

Mr O'Farrell also faces conflict within his government.

The Herald understands Environment Minister Robyn Parker spoke out against mandatory sentencing during a recent cabinet meeting and was supported in her opposition by Planning Minister Brad Hazzard.

In November, the Liberal MP for Cronulla, Mark Speakman, a barrister, voiced his opposition to mandatory sentencing in Parliament. He said it was more appropriate for courts to develop sentencing guidelines and for legislation to be introduced in response to cases such as that of Thomas Kelly, 18, who was fatally punched in Kings Cross in 2012.

''However, that intervention should not take the form of fixed minimum sentences or elected judges, which are a recipe for partiality, favouritism and, ultimately, corruption,'' Mr Speakman said.

''There is no evidence that mandatory sentencing reduces the incidence of crimes. In fact, it reduces the incentive to plead guilty and leads to arbitrary and capricious results.''

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said: ''You have a party and government which is wilfully ignoring the best legal advice''.

The NSW Law Society has raised concerns about the presumption of intoxication under the new laws if the person accused of an alleged assault is found to have a blood concentration level of 0.15 or more. A spokesman for the society said this was ''an arbitrary amount which does not consider the 'influence' of the alcohol on an individual accused''.

''The proposed provision is unclear about the amount or effect of a drug or other substance that is required to establish that the accused was intoxicated,'' he said.

''This is likely to result in expert testimony being required in all matters involving the allegation of intoxication by any drug or other substance. The mere presence of a drug or other substance listed in the schedule does not necessarily mean that the accused would actually be intoxicated, particularly given that some drugs can take a long time to be processed through a person's system.''

The Law Society is also concerned that provocation will not be available as a defence.

From this weekend, police will have the power to require a breath test within two hours of an alleged assault and a blood or urine sample within four hours. They can also require a person to be detained in hospital to give the sample.

The president of the Australian Medical Association (NSW), Dr Brian Owler, said doctors supported the new laws and were happy to undertake any extra testing in hospitals.

''If they want to test blood and alcohol then hopefully it will mean less work for our emergency departments if we reduce the incidence of alcohol-related violence,'' he said.


Premier Barry O'Farrell. Picture: WESLEY LONERGAN

Premier Barry O'Farrell. Picture: WESLEY LONERGAN


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