The public's sense of justice in Victoria is not as severe as public opinion has suggested, according to a recent study examining Victoria's sense of justice.
Melbourne University's Dr. Austin Lovegrove has this week released some findings of a study he conducted comparing public opinion regarding sentencing leniency with a more subtle measure of the public's sense of justice.
Lovegrove explained that if you ask the public whether sentencing is too lenient or too tough, the overwhelming majority of people will say it's far too lenient - which, he said, represents "public opinion".
But Lovegrove instead pointed out that much of that public opinion is merely generated by people who get their information from the newspaper, read a few facts and, accordingly, say sentencing is too soft.
What Lovegrove attempted to do in his study was to replicate the conditions in a sentencing court and then see whether there was still a large percentage of people who were tougher than the courts - and get an idea of people's sense of justice.
Lovegrove examined 32 different groups of people from workplaces across Victoria and asked participants to consider four different offences including rape, armed robbery, theft and assault. After the details of each offence were explained by a sentencing judge, the participants were asked to consider relevant mitigating factors and impose a sentence, before hearing the real sentence imposed by the courts.
"On balance, the public were less severe than the courts," Lovegrove said.
"[We] found a wide range of factors that people will mitigate on," he said. "In terms of culpability they seemed to understand how human weakness or challenging personal or social circumstances could make a half decent person do something [wrong]."
Lovegrove also discussed the importance of gaining insight into the public's sense of justice and claimed there is too much public debate focused on public opinion. "The public opinion is clear - the courts are too lenient. What the courts ought to be applying, in my view, is a public sense of justice. That's more subtle and not nearly as severe as is generally thought in the community," he said.
The results of Lovegrove's research will be published in an article appearing in the British journal Criminology and Criminal Justice.
- Briana Everett