You cannot access news without being inundated with broadcasts relating to crime – we, as a society, seem fixated on crime and punishment: what crimes have been committed and what cases are being prosecuted.
Crime and politics
Given this societal fascination, it is perhaps unsurprising that news of crime and punishment is often accompanied by political news: what are our politicians doing to address crime and what new laws are being enacted to protect the public as a whole.
Is this unavoidable interrelationship between crime and politics appropriate? Does it ensure that the public is better protected or is it leading to an unnecessarily over-regulated society?
There are perhaps numerous examples of possible over-regulation.
One such example relates to our road safety laws. In Victoria, there are essentially catch-all offences for careless and dangerous driving. Section 65 of the Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic) provides that a person who drives a motor vehicle carelessly is guilty of an offence. Section 64 of the Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic) provides that a person must not drive a motor vehicle at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to the public. These offences carry significant penalties. In the case of dangerous driving, the applicable penalty is currently a fine of up to approximately $38,000 and/or a term of imprisonment for up to two years.
However, notwithstanding these catch-all offences, there are also now numerous specific offences, for example, those relating to the use of mobile phones while driving. Section 300 of the Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Vic) prohibits a person from using a mobile phone while driving (except for in certain limited circumstances). Notably, the Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Vic) incorporate some 500 or so pages of specific driving-related offences. It is at least arguable that many of these offences are already captured by the overarching provisions of the Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic) – so is this additional layer of regulation helpful? Is it necessary? Does it better protect the public? Or is it politicians signalling they are ’tough on crime’ without particularly advancing the law?
‘One Punch’ laws in Australia
Another example is the recent enactment of s. 4A of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic), which provides that a single punch that is delivered to any part of a person’s head or neck and causes injury to the head or neck is taken to be a dangerous act for the purposes of the law relating to manslaughter by an unlawful and dangerous act. Was there ever any doubt that delivering a punch and causing injury to a person’s head or neck was an inherently dangerous act? Was this enactment necessary to better protect the public?
It is arguable that having various offences relating to the same type of criminal behaviour creates unnecessary legal complexity. It is also arguable that additional legal complexity might bring with it unwanted legal loopholes. So it begs the question, are we better-protected or are we over-regulated? What do you think?
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