Queensland’s Court of Appeal has granted immediate suspension of a North Queensland prisoner’s jail term having regard to “known delays in parole board applications being heard”.
In Brisbane today the court allowed an appeal by Joshua Thomas William Watson against a sentence imposed by a Townsville District Court judge on 12 May this year.
Watson, 37, was sentenced to concurrent prison terms of four-years after pleading guilty to a charge of armed robbery and six-months for one count of common assault.
The court, comprising Justices Philip McMurdo, John Bond and Declan Kelly, was told the sentencing District Court judge had fixed Watson’s parole eligibility date as 12 May 2021, being the date of the sentencing hearing.
By the time of the hearing Watson had already been in custody for 429 days (about 14 months), which time was declared as time already served under the sentences.
The Court of Appeal, in a nine-page decision, said: “(Watson) seeks leave to appeal against the sentences on the ground that they are manifestly excessive.
“In terms of the way in which (Watson’s) application was argued, two separate points emerged.
“The second point involved the contention that, given what was known about parole hearing delays at the time of the sentencing, despite his intention to do otherwise, the judge did not make proper allowance for the applicant’s early plea of guilty by fixing (Watson’s) parole eligibility date as 12 May 2021.”
The court noted that, although the sentencing judge had no evidence presented to the court about the expected delays of parole hearings, prosecutors did concede in oral argument that, as at May 2021, it was notorious that there were significant delays with parole hearings.
“The judge was not to know what the likely extent of the delay by the Parole Board would be in the (Watson’s) case,” the court said. “However, he ought to have recognised the substantial risk that the delay would be of such magnitude that (Watson) would have to serve a period of actual custody by which he would be deprived of any substantial benefit from his early plea of guilty.
“The proper mitigation of a sentence for a plea of guilty is important not only for a just outcome for (Watson), but also to avoid a discouragement to other offenders to plead guilty, whose cases would be similarly affected by known delays in the parole system.
“In our consideration, the judge’s failure to consider the alternative of a partially suspended sentence was an error, affecting the exercise of the sentencing discretion. It is open to this Court, therefore, to re-sentence (Watson).”
The court granted Watson’s appeal and ordered the sentence imposed for armed robbery be set aside, and recommendation for parole be substituted with an immediate suspension for four years.
The decision means Watson is to be released from custody immediately. The Court of Appeal is the latest jurisdiction to be utilised by prisoners looking for alternate ways to avoid current delays of up to nine months for parole hearings.
Last month it was reported that Queensland prisoners were swamping the Supreme Court with applications for judicial review as a result of delays in parole hearings. Some prisoners have reportedly made successful applications to District Court judges to review and alter sentences based on the parole backlog.
Read the decision.