The Victorian Government has been caught up in a law-and-order debate following angry public protests against what have been labelled lenient sentences, as well as the lack of representation for victims on the new independent Sentencing Advisory Council.
Following the protests, Attorney-General Rob Hulls last week announced the Government could amend the Sentencing Act 1991 to require judges and magistrates to consider the impact of crime on victims in sentencing decisions.
The amendment would ensure courts took into account the experiences of victims when deciding how to sentence an offender. The victim’s circumstances, injury and any loss or damage resulting from the offence must be taken into account, Hulls said in a statement.
The proposal has been applauded by the Victorian Bar, which acknowledged the pressure on the Government to intervene in the sentencing in the Sims case. Premier Steve Bracks and A-G Hulls displayed “responsibility and courage in their rejection of calls to intervene in the Sims case”, said Robin Brett QC, chairman of the Victoria Bar.
In the Sims case, it was heard that drunk chef David Leslie Sims broke into the home of a sleeping woman and raped her twice. Sims will reportedly remain free after the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions decided not continue its fight to have him jailed.
Despite being convicted of two counts of rape, indecent assault and aggravated burglary, Sims walked away with only a suspended sentence from the County Court in Melbourne in April, The Australian reported.
According to Victorian Bar chairman Brett, Sim’s suspended sentence was reviewed by the Court of Appeal. “That Court has published detailed reasons for its decision not to set the sentence aside,” he said.
Hulls outlined some of the additional factors a judge would have to weigh up when handing down a sentence under the proposed amendments.
“This may include such things as the victim’s eroded sense of safety, an inability to form social relationships or an inability to hold down a job,” Hulls said.
The courts must already consider the maximum penalty for the offence, the nature and gravity of the offence, the offender’s culpability and degree of responsibility for the offence, as well as whether the offender pleaded guilty.
Hulls has stressed the importance of the public’s confidence in Victoria’s criminal justice system, and that any sentences imposed should be credible and effective.
The proposal to amend the Sentencing Act was the latest in a series of state government initiatives meant to strengthen the rights of victims in the criminal justice system, Hulls said.
He said his government rejected the “simplistic and arbitrary approach” of mandatory sentencing.
“Instead we need to equip our judges and magistrates with the tools to make appropriate decisions on sentencing that are independent of politicians and yet reflect community standards.”
The recent announcement that the Bracks Government would consider amending the Sentencing Act follows a recent rally against the sentencing in the Sims case as well as a paedophile case, which drew about 10,000 Victorians to the steps of Parliament House.