Sentencing in the Victorian Supreme Court should be broadcast so the public can have "all the facts" when it comes to formulating views about appropriate sentences, according to the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV).
LIV president Caroline Counsel made the comments in the wake of today's (27 July) launch of an online opinion poll which the Victorian Government hopes will allow the public to participate in the debate about sentencing reform.
"We believe that the public gets it right when they have all the facts," said Counsel. "Online surveys are not the way for governments to develop sentencing policy."
Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark said the survey, which will run for four weeks, will allow all Victorians to give their views on sentencing reform.
"We're asking Victorians to consider a range of criminal case studies and hand down the sentences they think are appropriate in each case," Clark said.
"This will help inform the Government about community views on sentencing and help shape decisions about future sentencing levels and other sentencing reforms in Victoria."
The survey includes almost 20 case studies featuring aspects of real crimes heard in Victorian courts.
Counsel said the survey was "too blunt" to provide all the nuances of individual factors taken into account by judges and magistrates when imposing sentences.
"It is important that the community gets as much information about sentencing as possible, but this cannot be done through an online survey," Counsel said.
She also said studies consistently showed that when the public is given the same information as judges, they tend to give similar or lower sentences than judges. Most recently, she said, the Tasmanian Jury Sentencing Study confirmed that jurors with firsthand experience consider that sentences are appropriate, and that judges are in touch with public opinion.
"The Government's online survey does not take into account important factors such as whether the accused is suffering from a mental impairment, as well as all the individual circumstances of a case," Counsel said.
She said the LIV believed that a wide range of sentencing options, including suspended sentences and home detention for less serious offences, should be retained. The LIV is also against any form of mandatory sentencing.
"We believe that and judges and magistrates, who have taken all the individual factors into account, must have discretion in determining the appropriate sentence," she said.