Lawyer Criticises ‘Law on the Run’ Policies

The toughening of Queensland’s criminal law penalties are poorly considered ‘law on the run’ measures which suggest the Government has no trust in its judges.

Law changes pushed through Parliament last week include a controversial new 25 year non-parole period for a person convicted of murdering a police officer in the line of duty.

The Criminal Law Amendment Bill pushes through a range of tougher penalties, with a doubling of the sentence for a serious assault on a police officer from seven to 14 years.

The non-parole period for murder will rise from 15 to 20 years, and the non-parole period for double-murder jumps from 20 to 30 years. Also under the new laws, a person convicted of evading police will lose their drivers’ licence for two years and pay a mandatory $5000 fine under the changes.

The effect of the new law changes suggests the Government has no faith in the judges or the courts to determine sentences appropriate to the offence.

Rather than impose rigid sentences by legislation the justice system should allow the courts and the parole board to have flexibility in imposing non-parole sentencing periods.

The individual circumstances of each case should not be steamrollered by some ‘one size fits all’ sentencing regime.

Under the new laws a person convicted of a euthanasia “mercy killing” would be automatically condemned to an increased prison term with neither the courts nor the parole board able to exercise any discretion.

There are often circumstances which call for some leniency in sentences. These laws don’t allow it and they should allow it.

A ‘strait-jacketing’ of the courts will not be effective as a deterrent against crime. Increasing the non-parole sentence for murder will not reduce crime rates and will only contribute to an overloaded, under-resourced prison system.

I am critical of the inconsistency of a special sentencing for murdering a police officer whilst ignoring other –unarmed- front line people such as firemen and ambulance personnel, prison officers, medical staff and SES workers.

It suggests that while we hold all life as sacred, some lives are more sacred than others. A special sentence just for police victims sends the wrong message to all of our emergency service workers.

This is really a pushing ahead with election pledges rather than delivering needed reforms to our criminal law system. It’s deplorable that the Sentencing Advisory Council, set up by the government to rubber stamp its mandatory sentencing push, and which instead bravely rejected the idea, is now disbanded and the community’s input on sentencing has effectively been terminated.

Other States allow their courts to have some power in setting minimum non-parole periods which can be tailored on a sliding scale to fit the crime.

Many crimes in Queensland are domestic, emotion-driven offences rather than committed by career criminals. Our courts should be able to weigh the individual circumstances of every case and determine an appropriate punishment.

Tougher penalties with longer non-parole periods will only encourage defendants to fight charges even more, which will make trials more complex because a lack of sentencing discretion means there is only one penalty.

The law changes are a misguided and poorly conceived measure to impose a ‘one size fits all’ penalty across a large range of offences.

What we don’t see here is any confidence in the ability of the courts to discharge their responsibilities. If anything this is a vote of no confidence in our judges who frankly deserve better.

By Bill Potts, Director of criminal defence law firm Potts Lawyers.