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Judges get sentencing right

A new study released this week has revealed that the more informed members of the public are about judicial decisions, the more likely they are to agree with criminal sentences. The Tasmanian…

A new study released this week has revealed that the more informed members of the public are about judicial decisions, the more likely they are to agree with criminal sentences.

The Tasmanian Jury Sentencing Study, funded through the Criminology Research Council, was inspired by High Court Chief Justice Gleeson who, in response to claims that judges are out of touch with public opinion suggested that instead of uninformed members of the public, jurors should be surveyed in regards to sentencing. Gleeson CJ said jurors, as informed members of the public, should be asked about the particular sentences in particular cases they have deliberated on.

Released by the Australian Institute of Criminology, the study is the first to use jurors who are participating in real criminal trials.

"This study reveals that a majority of jurors gave a more lenient sentence than the one imposed by the trial judge and after reading the sentencing reasons, 90 per cent of jurors found the sentence delivered in their trial to be appropriate," said Minister for Justice, Brendan O'Connor.

The study contrasts with public opinion surveys in which a majority of Australians thought that judges were not in touch with the public.

"These results show the great value of the public being informed about the facts of the case in order to understand sentencing decisions," O'Connor said.

The study examined 698 jurors from 138 criminal trials and showed a lack of consistency between jurors' views about the particular case they were deliberating on and their general attitudes towards sentencing. The difference was most pronounced in sex and violence cases.

Led by Professor Kate Warner and carried out by researchers at the Universities of Tasmania and South Australia, the report is available at www.aic.gov.au/publications.

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