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A celebration of Origin: One Punch laws in New South Wales and Queensland

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June 14, 2016

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As Australia’s largest specialist criminal and traffic law firm, with offices in 4 of the 8 States and Territories, Armstrong Legal are regularly called upon to advise clients on the cross-border effect and implications of particular laws.  In contemplation of the 2016 State of Origin series, a number of articles on this blog will examine some of the legal commonalities, and conflicts, which exist specifically between the two great Origin States: New South Wales and Queensland.

This first article will explore the laws in each State which create a specific category of violent offence colloquially called a ‘one punch’ or ‘coward punch’ attack and, in preparing this review of the provisions the question is asked, ‘could the offences be committed during an on-field Origin fight?’

The reader might conclude that the answer in both jurisdictions is, troublingly, a resounding ‘quite possibly’.

One punch in New South Wales

Section 25A of the Crimes Act 1900 makes it a crime, punishable by up to 25 years imprisonment, to assault someone and thereby cause their death.  This crime, called ‘assault causing death’, does not require any proof of intention to kill, or any proof that the death was reasonably likely or even necessarily foreseeable.

The offence specifically provides that a person is taken to have ‘caused’ a death if that death occurred because the other person hit their head on the ground or some other object as a result of the assault.

To prove an Origin player guilty of this offence (at least theoretically), all the prosecution would need to establish is that whatever physical action that player applied against the deceased was outside the rules of the game* and that it caused the death (either directly or consequently).

Could a player be guilty of an offence against s25A if someone died during an on-field Origin fight? Quite possibly.

*consideration of this particular aspect quickly descends into a murky area of law  involving implied consent to injury in contact sports and is beyond the scope of this article.

One punch in Queensland

Section 314A of the Criminal Code (Queensland) provides that striking another person to the head or neck and causing their death is a crime punishable by life imprisonment.  As with the NSW provision this crime, now called ‘unlawful striking causing death’, does not require any proof of intention to kill, or any proof that the death was reasonably likely or even necessarily foreseeable.

One point of difference in the Queensland legislation is that there is no express statement that a death which is consequent upon the striking (by hitting ones head on the ground or another object for example) is to be taken as being caused by the striking.

A second point of difference is that the Queensland regime specifically excludes ‘assault’ as an element of the offence of unlawful striking. 

The most profound effect of the assault exclusion is that consent to the striking becomes immaterial (subject to one proviso) meaning that, in circumstances where two adults willingly engage in a physical interaction, the offence can still be committed if one of them happens to die – no matter how inadvertently.

Could a player be guilty of an offence against s314A if someone died during an on-field Origin fight? But for the proviso referred to above (and dealt with very shortly); Almost certainly.

The proviso which might render a player not criminally liable under s314A is a statement in the offence provision that a person is not guilty of the offence if the striking is done as part of a socially acceptable function or activity and is reasonable in the circumstances.  Presumably, in the context of an Origin fight, a player is not liable so long as the foul which provoked the strike was significantly serious … or if the other team started it.

About the Author

John is partner of Armstrong Legal and head of the Criminal Law Division. The experience John possesses, being a high quality mix of defence and prosecution skills, together with his team at Armstrong Legal, mean you can be certain of accurate, dependable and practical advice on how your matter can dealt with.

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