Kate Fitz-Gibbon awarded Victorian Legal Services Board grant to examine legal responses to one-punch homicide

Post by Dr Kate Fitz-GibbonDeakin criminologist Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon has received a grant to examine legal responses to one-punch homicide as part of the Victorian Legal Services Board 2015 grants round.

Kate will study 10 years of one-punch homicide cases in Victoria to produce the first comprehensive state-wide analysis of legal responses prior to the introduction of mandatory sentencing laws for coward’s punch manslaughter in September 2014.

Defined as a single punch or strike resulting in the victim’s death, one-punch homicides have shocked the Victorian community since the well-publicised death of Australian cricketer David Hookes in 2004. In the lead up to the 2014 reforms, constant media coverage of one-punch homicide cases resulted in a community outcry around the perceived leniency of sentences for offenders and lead to the then Victorian government’s introduction of tough new sentencing laws.

Following the 2014 reforms, any person in Victoria convicted of a ‘coward’s punch’ manslaughter will be liable to a mandatory minimum non-parole period of 10 years’ imprisonment.

Kate explains that her project will involve analysing all one-punch homicide cases in Victoria between 2004 and 2014.

“It’s important to examine not only the outcomes of the cases – convictions recorded, secondary convictions, sentencing principles prioritised, and sentence imposed – but also the circumstances surrounding each crime. Factors like the location of the offence, precipitating events, the relationship between victim and offender, age and gender of victim and offender, and whether alcohol and drugs were involved are important for gaining a complete picture.

“Once we have this information, we can draw out commonalities between cases and better understand how they were handled in the justice system. Only then can we explore evidence-based options for reform and understand the viability of the current approach.”

As part of the project, Kate will also interview Victorian legal practitioners.

“As a result of this mandatory sentencing approach, judges in Victoria have had their hands tied when it comes to the sentencing of one-punch homicide cases. This project will examine legal practitioner’s views of current practices, the 2014 reforms and any future needs for reform.”

The 12-month project is set to begin in September 2015 with the final report anticipated for release in August 2016.

The Geelong Advertiser ran an article, ‘One-punch deaths to be reviewed as part of Deakin study’, about Kate’s funded research on 28th July.

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