Recent years have seen intense media scrutiny, concerted policy discussion and significant law reform on the relationship between the consumption of alcohol (and other drugs) and the commission of criminal offences. Much of the debate has been dominated by the view that, particularly for crimes of violence, the state of ‘intoxication’ produced by the consumption of alcohol and other drugs (‘AOD’) should be regarded as an aggravating factor that adds to the seriousness of the harm done and warrants additional punishment. Some recent legislative reform measures have unambiguously embraced this position. As important as it is, treating intoxication as an aggravating factor is, in fact, only one of the ways in which Australian criminal law attaches significance to AOD consumption.
We are currently undertaking a large-scale study of the ‘knowledges’ and assumptions about the relationship between intoxication and violence (and other offending and anti-social behaviours) that are reflected in Australian criminal laws. Our project compares legislative and judicial knowledges on ‘intoxication’ with scientific and social scientific expert knowledges on the effects of AOD, and the relationship between AOD consumption and violence and other criminal offending. It maps and assesses the multiple ways in which Australian criminal laws attach significance to the attribute of intoxication, and investigates the effects these approaches may have in practice. We aim to facilitate enhanced clarity, consistency and integrity in laws that attach penal significance to the fact of a person’s intoxication, and improve the criminal law’s capacity to meet the needs of the community with respect to the attribution of criminal responsibility for AOD-related anti-social behaviour, harms and risks.