THE LAW Council has condemned recent amendments to anti-terrorism laws, arguing they may discourage suspects from cooperating with authorities and lead to shorter overall sentences for convicted terrorists.
Creating new minimum non-parole periods for terrorism offences could be problematic, according to the Law Council president Bob Gotterson.
Although the Government amendments were agreed to by the Opposition, they were an attempt to curtail judicial discretion over sentencing, he said.
A-G Philip Ruddock said the move would ensure a national approach across all jurisdictions and signalled the Government’s belief that terrorism offences must be treated seriously.
“The Government is convinced that Australia’s bail laws should treat suspected murderers and terrorists in the same way.”
He said the Government felt sentences for convicted terrorists should reflect public concern about terrorism. “The very significant proportion of the overall head sentence devoted to release on parole has the potential to undermine confidence in the criminal justice system.”
The amendments were aimed at making those convicted of terrorism offences spend more time in prison, in recognition of the cost to the community both financially and in the loss of peace of mind, Ruddock claimed.
Gotterson cited several concerns: “The proposed amendments will mean that an offender, once convicted, will have to serve at least three-quarters of their sentence before being eligible to apply for parole,” he said.
The Law Council is concerned that such mandatory minimum sentencing provisions will discourage suspects from cooperating with law enforcement authorities as the judicial discretion to take into account such cooperation is removed.
“The new provisions may also lead to overall shorter sentences for convicted terrorists, because they may persuade a judge to deliver a lighter sentence in view of the extra time an offender will serve in custody,” Gotterson said.
It was an attack on judicial discretion to change the presumption in favour of bail for people accused of terrorism offences, he said.
It was also an over-reaction to a number of recent cases in which people accused of terrorism related offences had been granted bail.