A private member's bill inspired by a fatal punch at a Kerikeri pub 15 years ago now has a chance of becoming law.
Northland MP Matt King's Crimes (Coward's Punch Causing Death) Amendment Bill, which was drawn from the parliamentary ballot on Thursday, would create a new offence covering serious assaults causing death, especially a punch to the head known as a king hit or coward's punch.
Mr King said he couldn't believe his luck in having a bill drawn so soon into his first term. It had been prompted by an assault at Kerikeri's Homestead Tavern about 15 years ago, when he was working as a police officer, in which a 60-year-old man from Te Tii was punched without warning in the side of the head by a man almost twice his weight.
As the victim fell his head struck a bar leaner. "He never got up."
In April this year Mr King was to have been a witness in the trial of 27-year-old Jaydin Locke, who punched a man in the head during a concert at Kainui Rd Winery. The victim, a Paihia chef, suffered serious brain and eye injuries, and was still unable to return to work a year later.
Mr King, who had been standing a few metres away, described the attack as "violent, vicious and bad".
Locke pleaded guilty on the day the trial was due to start after the charge was reduced from wounding with reckless disregard to injuring with reckless disregard. He is currently serving a 16-month jail term.
The MP said a new, stand-alone offence was required to send a message about the seriousness of that kind of assault. He knew of past cases in which juries had been reluctant to convict an offender of manslaughter, even though death had resulted.
A new charge would offer an alternative to juries, and to defence lawyers who wanted to plea-bargain to avoid a trial.
The new charge, which would carry a maximum sentence of 20 years, placing it between wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm (14 years) and manslaughter (life), was designed to cover any fatal unprovoked attack made without warning.
Unlike a similar law passed in Australia after a series of fatal assaults there, it was not limited to punches to the head or neck.
He was planning to ask NZ First for support but it could be next year before the bill was debated. If it became law he wanted to see it accompanied by a publicity campaign highlighting the dangers of one-punch assaults and the potential 20-year penalty.
Other bills drawn in Thursday's ballot covered high-powered laser pointers, shark cage diving and second-language learning in schools.