Of billionaires and sporting superstars

I was contemplating writing a post about an ignorant, self-interested op-ed by billionaire mining heiress Gina Reinhardt until I asked myself the question: what’s the point?  It’s a question whose answer increasingly constrains my blogging output after almost 9 years at the game.

However, one of Reinhardt’s particularly stupid “cookie-cutter” RWDB observations was this:

Our crime record is unacceptable: we should all be able to live safely in our homes and suburbs …

In fact, with the noteworthy exception of non-sexual assaults, crime rates in Australia have mostly fallen significantly over the last decade or so.  Moreover, as far as one can tell (international crime rates for most categories aren’t comparable because they’re compiled on radically different bases in different countries) Australia’s crime rates are not high by world standards; about the same as Canada, Japan and the European Union but significantly lower than the US.

I was going to muse about the reasons for the anomalously increasing assault rate.  Experts think it’s partly an artefact of changing collation methods (domestic violence is now classed as an assault whereas police didn’t previously classify those offences as assaults!), and partly a result of increasing binge alcohol and party drug consumption by young pub and club-goers.

However, I can’t help wondering whether another reason might be an increasing trend for police to simply charge people with assault without any exercise of commonsense discretion, where previously no such charges would have been laid.  What aroused my suspicion was the apparent facts surrounding rugby league superstar Benji Marshall’s alleged early morning assault of  a loud-mouthed yob:

RUGBY league star Benji Marshall punched the wrong man when he reacted to racial taunts, police will allege in court.

The alleged case of mistaken identity has emerged since Marshall was charged last week with assaulting a 24-year-old man on the crowded footpath outside a McDonald’s restaurant on George Street.

Marshall had attended a charity fund-raiser after being promoted as this season’s ”face of the NRL” and was returning to a nearby hotel where he was staying.

Police sources have told The Sun-Herald that a punch, which allegedly split the lip of the man, followed racial taunts towards Marshall.

One man allegedly called Marshall a ”black c—” and another person allegedly said ”Darren Lockyer is a better player than you”.

But when the case comes before the Downing Centre Local Court on April 20 police will allege the victim denies being the source of the offensive slurs made to Marshall while his back was turned.

Now I appreciate that it’s no doubt technically an assault irrespective of what was said to Marshall or who said it, and that in the best of all possible worlds you’d hope Marshall might have exhibited the Patience of Job.  In the real wold, however, I doubt that very many people would blame Benji even slightly for his actions.  My own view is that both Benji’s interlocutors richly deserved a smack in the mouth.  Moreover, in the good old days police would have taken precisely that view and, if the “victims” had tried to lodge a complaint,  would have given them a swift boot up the backside and told them to keep their smart-arse mouths shut in future.  Nowadays police are so imbued with political correctness (and probably fear of being falsely accused of bias or corruption) that they seemingly feel obliged to lay charges despite the fact that they clearly have a discretion to decline to do so if they reasonably regard the offence as trivial:

Lord Scarman stated that:

…the exercise of discretion lies at the heart of the policing function. It is undeniable that there is only one law for all: and it is right that this should be so. But it is equally well recognised that successful policing depends on the exercise of discretion on how the law is enforced. …Discretion is the art of suiting action to particular circumstances.

Discretion is a central and important feature of every decision made by a police officer to charge a person. Members must consider issues such as fairness, justice, accountability, consistency and wider community interests and expectations when deciding whether or not to prefer a charge (Taylor, 1999).

We can only hope that the magistrate who eventually hears the case will take a more sensible view, decline to record a conviction and fine Benji 50c or thereabouts.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic at Charles Darwin University, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law) and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 12 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in he early 1990s.
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16 Responses to Of billionaires and sporting superstars

  1. Patrick says:

    Amen to that.

  2. Andrew Norton says:

    Given that the cops would have been accused of double standards (and not ‘political correctness’) for celebrities had they not charged Marshall, it looks like a defensible use of discretion to me.

  3. Ken Parish says:

    Andrew

    It would only be “double standards” if they would have charged someone who wasn’t famous but didn’t charge Benji. In fact I suspect it’s the other way round, which would mean that what they’ve actually done is itself an example of double standards. OTOH if they have a practice of simply charging everyone irrespective of the particular circumstances that simply confirms my argument in the primary post. Moreover, you have to ask: why?

  4. desipis says:

    I’m more of the view that in a civilised society that offensive comments, no matter how unpolitically-correct, are not justification for violent assault. To me the risks just aren’t worth it.

    I also don’t like the idea of the police deciding what assaults are permissible based on how much they do or don’t like the comments that provoked the assault, particularly if there’s a formal complain made by the victim (which I’m assuming is the case).

    I’d argue that the decreasing acceptance of violence as a resolution to disputes or grievances is one of the key reasons we actually have a decreasing violent crime rate.

  5. Chris Lloyd says:

    There was a mob of fans at the time. Anyone could have said it. You are assuming that there was no mistaken identity. If there was, it is an unprovoked attack, and I would be happy to see him in jail for 6 months.

    You seem to regard a smack in the mouth as “trivial”. It is an unreasonable escalation of a verbal insult. In the pub, the next step is a broken beer glass in the throat. If magistrates start giving 50c penalties for this, you really do end up with blood all over the streets.

    You also seem to think that any racial slur can automatically justify a violent assault. This is an automatic blank cheque for black guys to respond without any limitation and just claim justifiable, uncontrollable rage afterwards.

  6. Incurious and Unread (aka Dave) says:

    Ken,

    In the “good old days” it would probably have been the police calling Marshall “a black c***”.

  7. derrida derider says:

    What desipis and Chris said. Sticks and stones ….

  8. conrad says:

    “I’d argue that the decreasing acceptance of violence as a resolution to disputes or grievances is one of the key reasons we actually have a decreasing violent crime rate.”

    I think it’s just that we’re getting better off and unemployment has dropped (especially for males) for quite some time. I imagine this is why sexual assault has stayed steady — because it’s less relate to money issues than other types of crime. If you could split up violent crime into “crime done for no reason” vs. “crime done for money, or due to frustrations at not having it” I bet there would be a strong interaction across the years.

  9. desipis says:

    conrad, has there been an increase in crime in those developed countries most affected by the GFC? If we accept your theory then we’d expect to see such an increase.

  10. What heiresses and other fortunate people like Ms Reinhardt conveniently forget is that any assault, violence, sexual attack or murder is most likely to occur in your own home by people you are either married to, de-facto-ing with or otherwise know very well.

    The biggest single category of murders is parents or carers murdering their kids under 10 years old.

    You are safer walking the streets after midnight.

    I always wonder why news media don’t append facts to silly articles like this. Instead of having “balance” we could sometimes have facts.

  11. I do think there is a case for guest labour if organised fairly, but Lang Hancock’s daughter doesn’t make the case.

    I almost always tune out when anyone cites Singapore as some kind of example to emulate. If this was Singapore Tony Abbott would have been already bankrupted through the courts by Julia and probably be in prison.

    In Singapore the death penalty is mandatory for first-degree murder and for the possession of more than 15g of heroin in its pure form (dia-morphine), which is deemed to be evidence of trafficking. Amnesty International, which opposes all capital punishment on principle, notes that some 400 criminals were hanged between 1991 and 2003, for a population of 5 million

  12. Thats equivalent to about 4 people a month each month being hanged in Victoria for the 10 years.

  13. Mel says:

    “In fact, with the noteworthy exception of non-sexual assaults, crime rates in Australia have mostly fallen significantly over the last decade or so. ”

    I think people are much more likely to report assaults today than they were in the past. Only a decade ago it would have been considered “unmanly” to run off to the police if you’d just been bashed during a Friday night out on the town. Thankfully such attitudes, which Ken appears to reflect, are less prevalent today.

  14. Chris Lloyd says:

    FXH: I tkae your overall point But: “The biggest single category of murders is parents or carers murdering their kids under 10 years old.” But if you break up the data enough, you can make anything the biggest single category. Eg: single biggest victims of crime have brown hair and first name beginning with T. I made that up – but you get the point.

  15. Gerald says:

    See how they do it NZ for an All Black:

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10712922

    17 March 2011
    Ex all black involved in late night bar incident

    Former all blacks hardman jerry collins has been embroiled in a late-night incident at a wellington bar.

    A witness said the ex-hurricanes blindside flanker and a friend were involved in an altercation at the wellington bar public during which a bottle was thrown.
    Police were called.

    The witness said the pair appeared drunk and aggressive towards staff and were refused service.

    “they [the staff] must have been pretty pissed off to call the cops,” he said.
    Police said they were called to the bar after a report of disorder by two male patrons, one of whom was arrested for breach of the peace.

    It is understood that person was collins’ companion.

    The wellington police emergency response manager, acting inspector scott miller, said the matter was dealt with after an agreement was reached between staff and the two people involved to pay for damage caused after a bottle was broken.

    “one of those people was subsequently arrested outside the bar for breach of the peace, due to his poor behaviour.”

    public’s manager, stephen reynolds, also confirmed there was an incident at the bar on sunday about 11pm.

    “my official line is that there was an incident and it has been resolved,” he said.

    Asked if this incident involved collins, mr reynolds replied, “it did.”
    the witness said that when police arrived, an officer accompanied collins inside the bar, where he apologised to the staff.

    “his whole demeanour changed when the cops showed up and he played the game. Police were saying to him, ‘come on jerry, you’re better than this’, then they put him in a taxi and sent him home.

    “but his mate was obviously having a bit to say and he was arrested, cuffed, put in the back of the car and taken away.”

    the herald put questions to collins’ agent, tim castle, but in emailed responses he said that posing the questions was an “invasion of privacy” and “some kind of tabloid tittle tattle”.

    “like all citizens, jerry is entitled to his privacy,” he said.
    “there are no issues so far as public is concerned so what is the

    legitimate public interest in any event?”

    collins, who is contracted to welsh side ospreys, is in new zealand for a brief stay.

  16. Patrick says:

    OTOH, Collins is a hell of a lot bigger than Benji – I don’t imagine he gets called a black anything very much.

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