VICTORIAN ATTORNEY-GENERAL Rob Hulls has stumbled into controversy surrounding new appointments to the State’s first independent Sentencing Advisory Council. What has been labelled as his bid to placate an angry public over apparently lenient sentencing laws is said to fall short of what is really needed.
Hulls recently announced the 12 members appointed to Victoria’s first independent Sentencing Advisory Council. The new members, according to Hulls, represent a range of perspectives and interests. These include victims of crime, police, youth, women, people with disabilities, the mentally ill, Indigenous people and the legal sector.
“While judicial discretion is the foundation of our sentencing system, a strong and modern justice system needs to consider informed public opinion to remain relevant to the community it represents,” Hulls said.
But the Crime Victims Support Association (CVSA) in Victoria is so angered by what they call a lack of victims of the list, they held a protest at the Victorian parliament house on the weekend to express their views. Not one member of the new council, according to the association’s president, Noel McNamara, “would qualify for the status of a victim”. “It doesn’t seem the right make-up for an independent committee,” he said.
According to the CVSA, which represents victims of crime in Australia, says victims should be on the Council because they have practical experience of being a victim and of going through the trauma and grief caused by the shock, McNamara said.
“We believe you can learn a lot from books but need practical experience to really understand. The Government is not looking into victims concerns,” he said.
But, according to Hulls, the Council will do just this by giving the general community a say on sentencing. He said he was confident the Council’s diverse make-up would ensure a robust debate about sentencing matters, based on a practical understanding about how the criminal justice system works.
“It will encourage informed public discussion on sentencing issues and bolster community confidence in the justice system by making it more accountable,” Hulls said.
The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) has stood up to the accusations against Hulls’ appointments, claiming it is a good one. According to LIV president Chris Dale, “we want a Council of experts in criminal justice who are committed”.
The debate in Victoria revolves around whether there are enough people on the Council who can speak on behalf of the victims, Dale said. “The Council has the ability to tap into the community and with the variety of experience amongst the members it would have a strong sense of community,” he said.
“It is a very balanced committee and those people involved in the Council certainly can weigh up all sorts of considerations as well as those of victims,” Dale said.