Page 555 - Week 02 - Tuesday, 10 February 2009

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Crimes (Murder) Amendment Bill 2008

Debate resumed from 11 December 2008, on motion by Mr Corbell:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (7.53): The opposition will be giving in-principle support to this bill. As a matter of principle, we support the notion of toughening up our laws as they relate to violent crimes, and I do not exclude matters such as murder from this statement. However, the opposition has some reservations about how this bill came into being. Accordingly, I foreshadow that the opposition will be proposing a motion for the bill to be sent to the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety for further detail, scrutiny and study before the detail stage is finalised.

This bill seeks to extend the elements which may lead to the finding of murder against an offender. Presently our law provides that the offence of murder may be found if the offender either intends to cause the death of another person or if the offender is reckless as to the likelihood of the result of their actions against another person causing that person’s death.

This bill adds a third element, one that allows a finding of murder if the offender intends to cause serious harm to another person who, having been inflicted with that serious harm, subsequently dies from the effects of that harm. The ACT Criminal Code 2002 defines serious harm to be “harm (including the cumulative effect of more than one harm) that endangers or is likely to endanger life or harm that is, or is likely to be, significant and longstanding”.

One of the arguments the government seeks to make is that this bill provides a higher level of certainty than that provided by the common law definition of grievous bodily harm, and it has to be acknowledged that currently the common law is somewhat nebulous as to the meaning of grievous bodily harm, describing it as “really serious” bodily harm. Certainly, the community is outraged when a particularly horrific act by one person on another ultimately results in death, and the community becomes even more outraged when they believe that the offender has been served a lenient punishment or, worse, escapes a conviction altogether because of the perceived shortcomings in our law.

However, the offence of murder is the most serious of offences in our criminal code. Conviction carries very serious penalties, and this is not a matter that can be taken lightly. Any change to our law must be given serious consideration, taking expert advice.

In laying out these cautions, let me reiterate what I said earlier: the opposition agrees in principle with tightening our murder laws but we would like to ensure that the way forward proposed by the Attorney-General is the best way. I am not suggesting that we should shut the law books and say that they are adequate as they currently stand. The effectiveness of our law should always be kept under review.

As legislators, we in this place should be ever vigilant to ensure that our laws are contemporary, meet the needs and expectations of the community and are effective in

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