A new Bill introduced into Parliament by the Victorian Government outlines minimum jail term sentences for people who assault emergency workers, even if they are under the influence.

The Sentencing Amendment (Emergency Worker Harm) Bill 2020 will require courts to impose a sentence of imprisonment in all cases where an offender recklessly or intentionally injures an emergency worker on duty, except in very narrow circumstances of mental impairment.

Following consultation with the Emergency Worker Harm Reference Group, the changes also make clear that courts must take into account the Parliament’s intent that a sentence of the statutory minimum length should ordinarily apply, even where a ‘special reason’ exists.

The Bill also makes clear that offenders will not be able to rely on a special reason of impaired mental functioning, even where they have an underlying condition, if a substantial cause of their impairment at the time of the offence is self-induced intoxication.

For complicit offenders involved in an attack on an emergency worker by encouraging or directing another offender to cause the injury, the onus will shift to alleged offenders to produce evidence to prove their involvement was minor, such that their culpability was low enough to justify an exception to the minimum sentence.

In recognition of the complexity of the laws and the gravity of the offences, the Office of Public Prosecutions will prosecute all offences with a statutory minimum sentence in the higher courts. 

This will also facilitate the development of specialisation in the prosecution of these complex cases. The reforms will also confirm that interstate emergency workers on duty in Victoria are protected under the legislation.

The reforms have been developed in consultation with the Emergency Worker Harm Reference Group, which includes representatives from emergency service organisations and unions, as well as the Office of Public Prosecutions and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Attorney-General, Jill Hennessy, said it was unacceptable for emergency workers to be harmed – intentionally or otherwise – when they were on the job.

“We’re making sure the protections for emergency workers are crystal clear and ensuring that a departure from the statutory minimum sentence is reserved for the most exceptional circumstances,” Ms Hennessy said.

“As we promised, we’re continuing to work with the experts on the Emergency Worker Harm Reference Group to make sure these laws are fit-for-purpose and function as intended.”