Consorting in Tasmania
The Tasmanian government recently introduced the Police Offences Amendment (Consorting) Act 2018 to revise the existing consorting offences contained in the Police Offences Act 1935. These amendments bring Tasmanian law in line with legislation in other Australian jurisdictions. These laws prevent someone with a criminal history from associating with another convicted offender even after they have served their criminal sentence. Under this law, a convicted offender cannot “consort” with another convicted offender for five years after being issued an official warning for consorting with a convicted offender. This article explains the offence of consorting in Tasmania.
Australian consorting laws were originally designed as anti-vagrancy laws, simply phrased to prohibit a person from habitually consorting with known thieves. Prior to the recent amendments, the Tasmanian consorting law had not changed significantly since 1935. The new amendment focuses on targeting organised crime rather than petty thieves and the homeless.
The amendment repeals the existing consorting law to create a new consorting offence. This new offence is designed to discourage the expansion of criminal networks by deterring convicted offenders from establishing or maintaining connections with other known criminals. This law aims to disrupt organised crime groups such as criminal motorcycle gangs by making it illegal for convicted offenders to consort with other convicted offenders if they ignore an official warning notice. The amendment clarifies the offence by further defining the crime, outlining a preliminary warning system, and specifying a judicial review mechanism.
Definition of consorting in Tasmania
The amendment clarifies several definitions relating to the crime of consorting in Tasmania. For instance, the following terms are defined:
- A convicted offender is any person aged eighteen years or older who has been previously convicted of a “serious criminal offence”. This means that a child under the age of eighteen cannot be charged with consorting.
- A serious criminal offence is any indictable offence or breach of the Firearms Act 1996, the Misuse of Drugs Act 2001, the Sex Industry Offences Act 2005, or part 8 of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Enforcement Act 1995. A serious offence is also any crime committed outside Tasmania that would breach these laws.
- Habitual consorting is contact that occurs on at least two occasions within a five-year period.
Official Warning Notice
Consorting is only an offence if a person has first been issued an official warning notice. A commissioned police officer (an Inspector or higher rank) can authorise a notice to deter a person from establishing, maintaining, or expanding a criminal network. A person in receipt of this notice may request a review of the decision from the Commissioner of Police within twenty-eight days of being served. The Commissioner must then direct a senior commissioned officer to conduct a review with a view to revoking or upholding the official warning notice. If the review is unsuccessful, the person can apply to the Magistrates Court (Administrative Appeals Division) for further review of the decision.
Under the Police Offences Act, a police officer can arrest any person who they have reasonable grounds to suspect has committed the offence of consorting. The penalty for this offence is a maximum of 150 penalty units or imprisonment for at most three years or both.
In addition to the standard legal defences, the amendment outlines several defences to the crime of consorting. A person can claim that the consorting was reasonable as it occurred with family members such as spouses, parents, grandparents, siblings, and dependents. It is also a defence against the offence if the consorting was for a reasonable educational, legal, medical, business, or employment purpose. The employment exception only applies when the person is genuinely engaged in lawful employment during reasonable business hours. The onus is on the defendant to establish that the consorting was reasonable given the circumstances.
Criticisms of Law on Consorting in Tasmania Law
The North West Community Legal Centre released a discussion paper in 2018 on the potential dangers of the amendments to consorting law in Tasmania. The NWCLC described the new law as a reactionary response to the threat of one motorcycle group, instead of a more appropriate, measured response based on fairness, research, and community need. The Legal Centre warned that granting intrusive and discretionary powers to the police could heavily infringe on the rights of Tasmanian citizens.
It was the NWCLC’s position that the law would unnecessarily interfere with a person’s right to associate with social groups. This law does have the potential to further marginalise vulnerable and disadvantaged populations. It also impedes the legitimate and laudable efforts of agencies and organisations that promote rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders into the community.
The criminal law team at Go To Court can answer any further questions about the amendments to consorting law in Tasmania. If you have received an official warning notice or have been charged with consorting, please contact or call 1300 636 846 for an explanation of your legal rights.