There are plenty of problems in our legal system, but judges and magistrates being “soft on crime” is not one of them.
But if people can be convinced to believe that it is, then both old parties are happy to bend in the wind. The conservatives will be first to sink in the populist boot – and Labor won’t be far behind.
Premier John Brumby criticised the Coalition and defended the status quo, saying: ”When you look at suspended sentences, it’s always been our view that it’s appropriate that there’s judicial discretion … It’s not the politicians that should be making the decisions about these things, it’s judges who are best placed to make those decisions.”
THE Brumby government, in a major policy reversal ahead of the state election, is set to abolish suspended sentences for serious crimes in Victoria.
Adopting a stance almost identical to the Coalition’s, the government will announce today it has accepted the findings of a report stating that attempts to slash the number of suspended sentences have failed.
“Very well, if that is the way the winds are blowing, let no one say I don’t also blow.”
And look on what the Sentencing Advisory Council based its assessment of the problems:
In 2006, after the council found suspended sentences were not in line with community values, the government changed the law to restrict suspended terms for serious offences to cases involving ”exceptional circumstances”.
The Sentencing Advisory Council should be well aware of the disconnect between what the community actually believes when fully informed, and what it’s told to believe by News Ltd – the Council has done tests. It should do more.
And those of us who think that judges and magistrates who hear the evidence are the best people to determine a just result in any particular case, and not parliaments guessing years in advance, will just have to vote for someone else.
UPDATE 18/5: John Campion SC gives some examples of the sort of injustices we’re likely to see more of:
Take the case of an aged offender who, having spent a completely law-abiding life, commits the mercy killing of a cherished and terminally ill lifetime partner. Depending on all the known circumstances, the community may not necessarily expect such a person to serve a term of imprisonment. On the other hand, would an appropriate outcome be to impose an intensive correction order or community-based order on such an offender? The community needs to consider the possibility that such an outcome could occur if suspended sentences are abolished. Might a merciful and tolerant community, while fully recognising the sanctity of human life, accept that a sentence of imprisonment totally suspended may meet the circumstances of such cases?
Or take the case of a relatively young offender who, in the context of a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, commits the serious offence of sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16. Sometimes in such cases the age disparities are not so great between the two people involved. It is not difficult to believe that some of these types of cases may involve offenders with good records, excellent prospects of rehabilitation, and perhaps having the context of an enduring relationship between the two people involved. In cases such as these, is it possible that the community may not be affronted by the imposition of a fully suspended sentence?
I don’t think the mob has thought this through.