STATE OF TASMANIA v GARETH IAN HUNTER 24 MAY 2023
COMMENTS ON PASSING SENTENCE JAGO J
Mr Hunter, you have pleaded guilty to one count of assault contrary to s 184 of the Criminal Code. On 23 December 2021 you attended a social gathering at a friend’s residence. The complainant was also there. It seems that throughout the evening the complainant became very intoxicated and his behaviour became difficult to manage. He was behaving aggressively towards other people at the party, including attempting to assault the host of the party. At one point you had to intervene to try and control his behaviour. Throughout the evening several guests at the party endeavoured to remove the complainant from the residence. He was walked home on several occasions, only to return to the party. During one of these occasions the complainant assaulted your step-son.
At approximately 2.30 the following morning, the complainant was taken back to his home by another male. An altercation occurred there and the complainant was assaulted by a person by the name of North. It is not alleged that you were involved in this incident, or bear any criminal responsibility for it. Nor is it alleged that you were aware that the complainant had been badly assaulted by North.
In any event, the complainant was left in the carport area of his home. You then entered that carport area and struck the complainant once to the face. It was a punch delivered with sufficient force that it caused him to stumble backwards. Thereafter, you and the complainant wrestled for a short period of time. The complainant fell to the ground and you were pulled away by others.
After you were removed the complainant was subject to a further assault. Mr North again assaulted the complainant. This time he struck him with a fist to the head. The complainant again fell to the ground, this time unconscious. Again, it is not alleged that you were involved in this incident, nor bear any criminal responsibility for it.
As a consequence of the cumulative assaults inflicted upon the complainant, he suffered quite severe injuries. On 24 December 2021 he was transferred to the North West Regional Hospital. CT scans revealed multiple fractures around his right eye socket and cheek bone. Initially, non-surgical treatment was proposed, but over time, further complications arose. The complainant was required to undergo surgery in respect to facial deformities on 31 October 2022. Further surgery is scheduled for May this year.
You were spoken to by police on 26 December 2021. You admitted to the police that you had punched the complainant. You told police you did this because you had discovered he had assaulted your step-son. You also told police about the difficult behaviour the complainant had been displaying during the evening and your endeavours to control him. You admitted to police that you were “quite intoxicated”.
I have read the complainant’s victim impact statement. There is no doubt that as a consequence of all of the assaults that evening, he has experienced considerable physical impairment, stress and anxiety. He describes a “massive mental, emotional and financial strain” as a consequence of the medical procedures he has undergone. He has also experienced difficulties at work because he was most self-conscious about his facial deformities. It is, of course, impossible to determine what effect your act of violence had upon him, separately from the other acts of violence that were inflicted on him. I will nevertheless sentence on the basis that, consistent with any crimes of violence of this nature, it is inherently dangerous behaviour which always carries with it the potential for serious harm to others.
You are 40 years of age. You are married with 2 step children. You have no prior criminal history for matters of violence. You work as an underground miner and have done so for the past five years. Prior to that, you qualified and worked in the building industry. It seems that your behaviour on this evening was out of character. You had become frustrated by the complainant’s difficult behaviour. You had endeavoured to alleviate any difficulties by removing the complainant from the party, but such endeavours were unsuccessful. When you learnt that the complainant had assaulted your step-son you became angry and assaulted him in the manner I have described. I am told you accept there is no justification for your behaviour and you are sorry for having acted as you did. I accept that remorse is genuine. You entered a relatively early plea of guilty, once issues pertaining to the acts for which you were to be held criminally responsible were resolved.
It goes without saying that the use of violence to settle grievances or frustrations is simply unacceptable. Drunken assaults occurring late at night are far too common and are a matter of concern to the broader community. Striking another person, particularly after the consumption of large amounts of alcohol, such that there is little control or understanding of the level of violence inflicted, or the potential consequences that might flow, is inherently dangerous. All too commonly, courts deal with situations where drunken violence leads to very serious outcomes. General deterrence and denunciation are prominent factors in the sentencing exercise.
I accept, however, that violence is out of character for you. Your reaction on this occasion seems to have been prompted by your concern over the complainant’s behaviour generally, and particularly towards your step-son. I do not consider that there is a substantial risk of you re-offending. Nevertheless, the objective seriousness of your crimes requires the imposition of a sentence of imprisonment. The message must be received by both you personally and the broader community that drunken violence will not be tolerated, and those who choose to participate in such behaviours, can expect strong sentencing responses.
There are however good reasons, which weigh against making you serve that period of imprisonment immediately. In particular, I note your lack of relevant prior convictions, your remorse, your employment and your solid prospects for reform. A wholly suspended period of imprisonment is appropriate.
Gareth Ian Hunter, you are convicted of the crime of assault. You are sentenced to a term of imprisonment of four months. The whole of that sentence will be suspended for a period of 18 months on condition you are not to commit any offence punishable by imprisonment during that time. I need to explain to you Mr Hunter that if you do, in fact, commit any offence punishable by imprisonment, you can be brought back to this Court and an application made that you serve the period of imprisonment. The law is that a judge must activate the sentence unless it is unjust to do so.