I have been referred to a news story regarding, yet again, violence directed to paramedics – Blair Thomson, ‘Man avoids jail despite attacking two ambos trying to help himThe Age (Online) (March 20, 2019)

My correspondent says;

I know you did a review of the sentencing of the two women who bashed the poor Victorian Paramedics (one of whom is still off work because of his injuries).

These two paramedics work for NSW Ambulance and had just popped across the border because Victorian Ambulance don’t have a presence there, something that happens often for both sides.

Does this have any implications for Work Cover?

Also the judge says it’s not in the interest of the public to send him BACK to gaol. Surely the public would be happy if this person was absent from the community even for a short time. He’s obviously a repeat offender and the story claims he had other outstanding warrants which is why he wouldn’t surrender to police.

Also how does this sentence compare to attackers of judges across the country?

I have made a commentary on an earlier case No gaol time for defendants who assaulted Victorian Paramedic (May 18, 2018) see also Mandatory prison sentences – offering paramedics a placebo rather than protection (August 3, 2018).

I haven’t seen the judge’s reasons so I can’t know if what factors caused the judge to conclude ‘it’s in your interest and indeed the community’s interest that I not send you back to prison today.’’  If the magistrate’s decision is published and I will be happy to comment on it (but see Accessing a judge or magistrate’s reasons for decision (November 18, 2016)).

Equally I can’t comment on what ‘the public would be happy’ with as there are many publics.  No doubt many would be very happy to see this person in gaol.  Others may not.  Who knows where anyone would stand without knowing the issues that were put before the judge.  The reason judges take an oath to apply the law and have tenure is to ensure that they don’t feel pressure to make decisions that would ‘make the public happy’.  Public expectation is a factor in the sentencing decision but only one.   Relying on community response to sentences when all that response is based on a media report is unhelpful.    See for example

  • Geraldine Mackenzie, Caroline Spiranovic, Kate Warner et. al  ‘Sentencing and public confidence: Results from a national Australian survey on public opinions towards sentencing’ Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology 45 issue: 1, page(s): 45-65 https://doi.org/10.1177/0004865811431328.
  • Kate Warner, Julia Davis and Maggie Walter ‘Public Judgement on Sentencing: Final Results from the Tasmanian Jury Sentencing Study’ Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, No. 407, February 2011 https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2362709. The Tasmanian study found:

Using jurors is a way of investigating the views of members of the public who are as fully informed of the facts of the case and the background of the offender as the judge. Based upon jurors’ responses from 138 trials, the study found that more than half of the jurors surveyed suggested a more lenient sentence than the trial judge imposed. Moreover, when informed of the sentence, 90 percent of jurors said that the judge’s sentence was (very or fairly) appropriate. In contrast, responses to abstract questions about sentencing levels mirrored the results of representative surveys.

That is once people know the facts they are more inclined to understand, and see the sentencing decision as reasonable.

The fact that these paramedics were assaulted and injured is terrible.  I have no idea whether not sending the offender to gaol is or is not a reasonable outcome.

What we do know is that the threat of mandatory sentencing was clearly not a deterrent nor did it protect the paramedics from violence.   To repeat what I said in the paper I wrote with Ruth Townsend and which you can link to from my post on mandatory sentencing:

Our argument is NOT that gaol terms for people who assault paramedics are not, and will not, be called for. Neither are we arguing that it is ok to intentionally assault paramedics. It’s not; and that’s why it’s illegal, as it should be.

Fundamentally our argument is that mandatory gaol terms will not decrease the risk of, or actual event of occupational violence directed toward paramedics and they may have adverse effects for paramedics…

We also said ‘It is clear governments don’t believe in mandatory sentencing despite the rhetoric’ as there is always a discretion left to the judiciary despite what the parliamentarians say in electoral mode.   Gaol terms may not be unjust; mandatory sentences are.


As for the ‘implications for Work Cover’ I infer that means implications for workers compensation and the answer is that there are none. The paramedics were employees of NSW Ambulance engaged in their employment even though at the time they were in Victoria.  They will be able to obtain workers compensation under the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (NSW).

Comparative sentences

As for sentences for people who assault judges I’m not sure I’ve seen any cases on point.  I am aware that someone is currently on trial for the murder of a family court judge and a number of other offences.  It has been reported that the trial judge has ordered that the trial be put on hold unless legal aid fund his defence – see Angus Thompson ‘The accused is indigent’: alleged Family Court bomber broke, judge says’ The Sydney Morning Herald (Online) February 28, 2019.  The judge there is applying the law, not some prejudice because one of the victims was a judge.