Sentencing Should Stay With Courts

by: Cameron Browne | From: The Courier-Mail | May 30, 2012

PREMIER Campbell Newman should confirm the Government’s axing of its Sentencing Advisory Council means that mandatory sentencing – proposed by the former government – has finally been abandoned.

There is disquiet about mandatory sentencing. The previous government set up the sentencing council to find a way to introduce it. The council instead came out against a policy which took the decision-making process from the courts.

The questions now are what, if anything, will replace the Sentencing Advisory Council and what are the new Government’s intentions?

I am concerned about mandatory sentencing after remarks by Police Minister Jack Dempsey, who said he wanted tougher penalties to deter people from committing crimes.

“Since coming to Government I have been working with the Attorney-General and have drafted minimum mandatory penalties for firearm offences that range from one to five years behind bars. We hope to have these finalised in the coming months then we will present them to Parliament,” Dempsey told media.

Mandatory sentencing removes a judge’s power to consider the circumstances of a case and replaces this with a rubber-stamp sentence if guilt is admitted or proven. Judges have no say. This is wrong.

The Government has silenced a respected sentencing body, so it’s reasonable to question its motives, especially after the Police Minister’s remarks.

Newman should rethink the council’s axing. It was a voice of moderation that based its findings on research and hard data rather than hysteria.

Its main aim was to have community input on sentencing options. That included police, prosecution, victim-support groups and academics. With this expertise, the council said it saw serious complications with minimum non-parole periods.

The advisory council officially stated mandatory sentencing for certain serious crimes could prove more costly, time-consuming and ineffective.

Even interstate victims’ groups acknowledged mandatory sentencing was not effective and complicated the process and made victims wait longer for an outcome. Queensland already has minimum non-parole periods for certain serious crimes such as an automatic life sentence for murder.

Mandatory sentencing does not deliver what crime victims and the public want – clarity, transparency and predictability in sentencing. It does not lead to reduced rates of serious crime or improve community safety.

We don’t need law-making based on hysteria and done in backroom deals with the police union. We need a body of experts who consult legal and communityinterests, including the victims of crime, and apply an evidence-based approach.

That is what we had before the advisory council was sacked.

Cameron Browne is a director of Potts Lawyers, a criminal defence law firm.

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