Magnetic Island North Queensland
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August 15th 2007
You cannot legislate for respect

In the following letter, Bill of Rights campaigner, Pat Coleman writes about new measures being sought by Queensland police which he believes will impact on the means by which citizens can legitimately protest. (Ed)

This week, the Qld Police Union marched on the state parliament in Brisbane as part of its campaign to increase wages for police.

At the same time that it is agitating for more money they are attempting to whip up support for police - "per se" by conducting a law an order push for mandatory sentencing for people who assault or resist police.

What they in fact trying to do is have police elevated to the highest authority in Qld . If being given a uniform and a gun isn't enough, they are after power and privilege and they want the uniform to spread fear.

The campaign for extra powers to deal with people who assault or resist police does not attempt to place before the people what powers and laws they already have. Police can already cherry pick which law they will use to charge resisters.

There are 5 provisions police can and do use now: assault, grievous bodily harm, serious assault, assaults occasioning bodily harm under the Criminal Code, and assault or obstruct police under s 444 of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act.

The Police Powers Act provision is additional to the code powers, and sentencing ranges from six months to 3, 7, 10 years and life imprisonment.

The thing is , that to simply make a cops job more difficult is classed as obstruction . Simply sitting on the ground is also classed as obstruction. And they can and already do charge people under s340 of the code for obstruction. The title of the charge is "Serious Assault". They can ask for you to be gaoled for 7 long years for defying them.

When the police claims that sentences need to be mandatory is looked at in the context of their pay claim, and in light of the actual laws already in existence, the truth becomes apparent. They are trying to extract money and they are attempting to have the government legislate for respect. They see their position as the strong-arm of the state and the social order as having been eroded and with it their power.

It is par for the course that respect must be earned, it can neither be bought nor legislated for. And we would be returning to the dark days if contempt of a cop becomes an offence thinly disguised as resisting or obstructing.

The cop union is also trying to claw back the moral high ground after their antics in the Hurley case . Not only that, but if a survey is done of union law and order PR and the timing of bad press , you will see a correlation .

The public should see through this .

I say instead , that there should be mandatory sentences for police who break the law and assault people, because they are supposed to be in a position of trust, and to breach that trust is a particularly heinous offence.

The state does not treat everyone as being equal before the law when it comes to the police. Every attempt to bring police to justice is obstructed by state dominated control of the legal processes. If you want to make a complaint you either have to talk to the cops themselves or the CMC. The CMC then tasks the cops to investigate themselves and the police minister will simply accept the police version of events.

If you want to charge police by yourself, don't bother asking the cops to charge themselves. Not only that but the ability to bring a private prosecution under the code is hampered and made near impossible by the need to provide security for costs, and the courts have not allowed many people to do this.

The only time cops are charged is when their actions make it into the media .

The only other option to do a cop for assault is by bringing a civil action for assault or false imprisonment. The thing is, that the elements of the civil actions are exactly the same as the criminal code offences. If you have police found liable, then you have actually proved a criminal offence has been committed by cops.

It doesn't seem to click with the state that police already have too much power, or that they should feel ashamed everytime cops are found liable under the civil law there is more than one law for them and another for the people. They need to address this anomaly before caving in to the union's demands for more money and more power.

Pat Coleman

To add your comment, see below

You cannot legislate for respect
Jill Edwards-Davis
August 16th 2007
I don't like the idea of mandatory sentencing for ANYTHING. As we were taught when we were young,"circumstances alter cases". For instance,a broke mother shoplifting food for her hungry children should not be treated the same as a teenager from a wealthy home stealing CDs, jewellery or makeup for thrills, or the criminal who makes a living stealing high-priced items from department stores. The same crime, different circumstances.

The institution of mandatory sentencing sends a message that we have lost confidence in our judiciary's ability to judge: to determine the severity of a crime and the most appropriate sentence to impose.

Well, perhaps we may have, to some degree. But do we really feel that the police, by choosing just which of the many avenues to take, in bringing someone to court, would do a better job?

An independant judiciary is one of the backbones of a free society. When we curtail their freedom to judge cases and impose penalties, we curtail our own right to a 'fair and free' trial. When we give the police the power both to charge and, in effect, to determine sentences, of those who offend against them, we have taken a small but significant step towards a police state.
Jenny Stirling
August 23rd 2007
Yes Jill I agree. The need for an independent judiciary has never been more acute. You would think that we have people running amuck in the streets the way police powers are being framed.

What to do about it?
A Bill of Rights?

What do you think? Send us your comments.

Readers comments
Syl Hayes In reply to Fair raises $15,000 for school
What a wonderful outcome for the school! I had a great time face-painting with Luke and Sasha, met lots of kids and parents,scored some great books at the Trash n Treasure stall, and even remembered to vote. Everywhere you looked people were enjoying themselves...such a tribute to the organisers. Well done!
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