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.