Today’s question is:
It is my understanding that in most of Australia it would be an offence to prevent an Ambulance Officer from doing their job on the basis of ‘obstructing a public officer’ being a crime. Is this correct?
In WA, as you are clearly aware, the Ambulance Service is not provided by the government itself, but rather by St John Ambulance WA under some agreement or contract. Are there provisions that give SJA officers in WA similar protections to those that public officers have?
The problem with the question is the underlying premise is wrong. There is not some general offence of ‘obstructing a public officer’ at least not one in every state. It so happens that obstructing a public officer is an offence in WA (Criminal Code Act 1913 (WA) s 172) but as noted a WA paramedic is not a ‘public officer’ (Criminal Code Act 1913 (WA) s 1, definition of ‘public officer’).
The reason it is an offence to obstruct a paramedic in NSW is not because a NSW paramedic is a public officer, but because the Health Services Act 1997 (NSW) s 67J ‘Obstruction of and violence against ambulance officers’ says it is; in Queensland it’s an offence to ‘wilfully obstruct or hinder any person acting under the authority of this Act’ because of the Ambulance Service Act 1991 (Qld) s 46; in Tasmania the relevant offence is in the Ambulance Service Act 1982 (Tas) s 39B. There is no specific offence of ‘obstruct ambulance officer’ in either the Ambulance Services Act 1986 (Vic) or the Health Care Act 2008 (SA). Neither the Northern Territory nor Western Australia have ambulance services legislation.
It is not the case that obstructing an ambulance officer is an example of some generic offence of ‘obstructing a public officer’. It is an offence because the ambulance service legislation in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania says it is.
Whether obstructing an ambulance officer in WA is an offence would depend on the circumstances and the general criminal law (eg it is an offence to assault a paramedic as it is an offence to assault anyone – Criminal Code Act 1913 (WA) s 223) but there is no specific offence of ‘obstruct paramedic’ in WA and as my correspondent has noted, the Western Australian offence of ‘obstructing a public officer’ won’t apply as paramedics employed by St John Ambulance (WA) are not ‘public officers’.