There has been much community anger over the non-custodial sentence given to two Victorian women who assaulted two paramedics, including one who has had three operations and has been unable to return to work.
Two years ago Amanda Warren and Caris Underwood who after a day consuming bourbon, champagne and cannabis punched and kicked veteran Victorian paramedic Paul Judd while he and another paramedic Chenaye Bentley were trying to treat an unconscious man in the Melbourne suburb of Reservoir.
A Melbourne magistrate originally sentenced Ms Warren and Ms Underwood to prison for six months and four months respectively. Victoria has a mandatory minimum six-month term for assaults on emergency service workers that was introduced by the Napthine Liberal Government in 2014.
However, the legislation contains a special circumstances provision that allows the judiciary to exempt certain people from the minimum sentence. This was applied by Judge Barbara Cotterell after the women appealed their prison sentence, they were released on bail pending the appeal.
Judge Cotterell decided that because the women had “appalling” childhoods and battles with drug, alcohol and mental-health problems that they would not be “suitable vehicles” to send to prison as a deterrence. Judge Cotterell also concluded the women had taken “enormous” step to turn their lives around and were also mothers. Details about the women’s history have been suppressed.
This reasoning hasn’t resonated with the public who are of the view you do the crime, do the time and that having a difficult life should not be an excuse. An image of Warren giving the finger to the media after leaving court in December last year has gone viral and hasn’t exactly made the public sympathetic to the argument she has been rehabilitied.
Plus spare a thought for their victim Paul Judd who wiped away tears when the sentence was overturned. As well as his injuries he is also suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Outside court Judd said, “It just leaves the door open for everybody to have an excuse to do what they want with no repercussions”.
Other paramedics in Victoria have been just as disappointed and angry at the overturning of the sentence.
Ambulance Victoria which oversees pre-hospital emergency care and ambulance services in the state, its chief executive Tony Walker stated “Aggression and abuse towards paramedics is completely unacceptable and in this case, Paul and Chenaye, two of our highly-trained, dedicated people were injured while simply trying to do their jobs, helping someone in need”.
Paramedics from around the state have now written on their ambulances the slogan “it’s not OK to assault paramedics”. Ambulances Employees Association assistant secretary Danny Hill said the message “is just raw emotion that is being expressed at the moment”.
A petition calling on the Andrews’ Government to revise the mandatory sentencing laws has already gained over 140,000 signatures.
To their credit, the state government has ordered urgent advice on how to tighten access to the special circumstances provisions. Many would argue though why should there be a special circumstance provision in the first place given that its definition is likely to continue to be applied liberally?
The sentence has also increased the public and politicians frustrations with lenient sentences handed out by the state’s judiciary. Many are of the opinion that politicians can tighten the sentencing laws all they want, but will it really led to sentences handed out that meet community expectations?