The birth of Sophie’s Law

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It is a sad day for any country when a death occurs on its roads, but particularly when the death toll rises into the thousands each year. In 2016, the number of annual deaths on Australian roads rose for the second consecutive year, climbing to nearly 1,300 fatalities. Unfortunately, deaths on Australian roads are not uncommon in comparison with some other countries, but thankfully stricter laws are being imposed throughout the country and in the individual states and territories that carry absolute consequences such as the automatic loss of license for drink drivers and an increase in fine amounts and license point loss for speeding. While these law changes are welcome among the Australian public, there is also a call for stricter laws for some offences. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (or both) is one such situation in which the public is calling for stricter legal action against offenders. The loss of life is never easy, but when it is the direct consequence of an individual who is under the influence at the time of the accident, it is near impossible to comprehend or forgive – particularly for those directly impacted by the accident. Being charged with drink driving is a very upsetting experience, and it’s important to get quality legal advice from an experienced DUI lawyer to help individuals navigate through the complex court process.

On 29th August 2014, Shaw was driving while under the influence of both alcohol and drugs. He crashed his car into a couple’s vehicle at high speed. While the couple survived, the impact of the collision killed their unborn child, a daughter to be named Sophie. Nearly full term, Queensland couple Sarah and Peter Milosevic lived out their worst fear when their daughter was taken from them a few short weeks before she was due to make her debut into the world. Shaw lost his license for five months and was fined a mere $950. Despite Sophie’s parents being presented with both a birth and a death certificate at the hospital after the car accident, Shaw was never charged with harm to a human being in any capacity – something that ignited a fire in Sarah and Peter, causing them to strive for a law in tribute to their late daughter, tragically taken from them at the hands of an intoxicated person who should never have gotten behind the wheel.

This result infuriated Sophie’s parents and they took it upon themselves to start an online petition to enforce Sophie’s Law, a law that if passed will give all foetuses past twenty weeks gestation full rights as a human being. If Sophie’s Law had been enforced at the time of the accident that took her life, it is likely that Shaw would have faced murder or manslaughter charges, effectively enhancing the consequences of his actions tenfold (and rightly so). Sophie was due to be born the week after the accident, meaning that she was essentially a full-term child ready to enter the world. Sophie’s parents argue – understandably so – that the difference of a few weeks should not dictate if the offender can be legally charged with offences against a human life.

The haunting campaign to bring justice for Sophie and trust in road laws has accumulated over 123,000 signatures. In mid-2017, Sophie’s parents Sarah and Peter won the support of Grassroots LNP members, when they appealed to the LNP State Convention in Brisbane to pass and ultimately enforce the law, giving unborn children basic human rights. While a worthy cause for a proposed new law, the specific area of law that would be required to change for Sophie’s Law to come to fruition is intricate, meaning that the potential for broader ramifications is wider and the decision must be weighed up more carefully than others may be. Sophie’s parents brought to the attention of the Convention that by Queensland law, unborn children are already protected against intentional acts of violence against pregnant women, and so the call for Sophie’s Law is not unlike that of the laws already in place to protect children vulnerable in the final states of their gestation.

After decades of decline, the death toll on Australia’s roads has risen over the last two years. While each state and territory has their own laws regarding speeding and other traffic violations, the nation agrees on one important truth: that drivers that are operating automotive vehicles under the influence should incur an immediate loss of license and a fine. When the accident results in one or more deaths, however, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify such a general set of consequences. While it is true that in Australia, each case is heard individually, it is also true that most of drink driving offences are charged similarly in most cases. With the hopeful introduction of Sophie’s Law in Queensland (and ideally nationwide), the rights of unborn children can be protected when incidents of violence occur resulting in serious injury or death to the child in question.

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