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Lawyers slam govt on mandatory sentencing

The Queensland Government is set to push ahead with plans to increase non-parole periods for people jailed for serious offices, despite criticism from lawyers.

user iconThe New Lawyer 12 October 2011 The Bar
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THE Queensland Government is set to push ahead with plans to increase non-parole periods for people jailed for serious offices, despite criticism from lawyers. 

A new report by the Sentencing Advisory Council says its majority is against introducing a minimum non-parole period scene. It said such a scheme would make sentencing more costly and time consuming.


While Attorney General Paul Lucas welcomed the report, he said the government would do further consultation before drafting legislation to bring the system into being. 

He acknowledged the Council's concerns over minimum non-parole, but said some lawyers resisted moved to give greater guidance to judges on sentencing, Brisbane Times reports. 

"I think that there is a view among some elements of the legal fraternity that they think that any direction to a court is inappropriate," he told reporters.

Queensland criminal defence lawyer Cameron Browne said the reported comments by Lucas that the State would continue with its mandatory sentencing regime, despite the concept being criticised by the state’s own Sentencing Advisory Council made a mockery of the supposed function of the advisory body.

“The Sentencing Advisory Council was straitjacketed from the outset. It was never asked whether it thought minimum non parole sentences were a good idea. 

The Government just said “We’re doing it, now tell us how to do it. The council is to be applauded for rejecting this approach and expressing its view regardless-  a majority view that categorically rejects any scheme of this sort,” Browne said.

Browne, a Director of Potts Lawyers, said the mandatory sentencing question was fundamentally flawed from the beginning.

He deplored remarks by Lucas that the community supported the mandatory sentencing idea even if lawyers and some community groups disagreed.

“The whole point of the sentencing advisory body was to have community input to sentencing options. But the council has come back and said there are serious problems with minimum non-parole periods.

“The state’s response seems to be it will ignore the sentencing council concerns and impose this grossly inappropriate system anyway,” he said.

Browne, who wrote the Potts Lawyers submission to the Sentencing Advisory Council, said the advisory council in its report stated  standard minimum non-parole periods for certain serious crimes could prove more costly, time consuming and ineffective.

Browne said research has shown that informed sections of the community believe the current sentencing regime was adequate.

“The Council has reported that a number of groups, including agencies working with victims, strongly oppose the introduction of a standard non-parole scheme,” he said.

Interstate victims groups have also acknowledged mandatory sentencing was not effective, harder to understand and complicated the justice process, especially through appeals, and thus made victims wait longer for an outcome.

“The Attorney- general needs to acknowledge we already have a system here of minimum non-parole periods for certain serious violent crimes.

“The public is being panicked by sensationalist claims about crime rates, but when community groups and stakeholders digest all of the available information, the consensus is our current system is working. The council’s detailed research found that there is real consistency in the Courts’ current approach.

Browne said the advisory body had done its best with an impossible task.  Its 144-page report, released on Tuesday, suggested a form of minimum non-parole sentencing as a compromise idea but it was clear the advisory council saw serious flaws in the concept.

“The report states there are concerns that any scheme of this type will not deliver what victims of crime and the members of the public were hoping for – clarity, transparency and predictability in sentencing; nor is there persuasive evidence that it would lead to reduced rates of serious crime or improvements in community safety,”.

“It states: The absence of strong evidence that minimum standard non-parole period schemes are effective, and achieve better sentencing outcomes than existing approaches, has led the Council to question the merits of introducing a minimum standard non-parole period scheme in this state.

“Most telling is the phrase” “A majority of members do not support the introduction of a new standard non-parole period scheme of any form in Queensland,”Browne said.

“The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland has made it clear that any new scheme will add to the complexity of sentencing without any demonstrated benefits," he said. 

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