The Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council (QSAC) has released an issues paper seeking community feedback on the state’s serious violence offender (SVO) scheme, which requires prisoners to serve a mandatory 80% of any jail term they receive.
QSAC Chair John Robertson said today that preliminary feedback, case law and data analysis had identified a range of issues relating to the scheme and the council was now seeking input from various community stakeholders, in particular members of the legal profession.
Mr Robertson, a former president of Queensland’s Childrens Court and now retired District Court judge, said that, from its inception in 1997, the SVO scheme was always destined to impact sentencing outcomes.
“We discuss in the issues paper how the scheme is being applied, how it impacts court sentencing practices, and whether the scheme is achieving its objectives – including community protection,” he said.
“And while sentencing offenders is always complicated, the scheme adds another layer of complexity, particularly when dealing with multiple offences where only some are subject to the scheme, or when sentencing co-offenders.”
In April the Queensland Government asked QSAC to review the sentences of people convicted of declared serious violent offences, which require they serve a minimum of 80% or 15-years – whichever is less — of prison terms imposed by the courts.
Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman said the terms of reference asked QSAC to take into consideration numerous matters related to the SVO scheme under Queensland’s Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, including its impact on the state’s sentencing practice.
The issues paper released today poses 34 questions and invites feedback from legal practitioners, government agencies, victims and survivors of crime and the community about the scheme’s current operation, potential reform options and alternative approaches to enhance community safety.
Mr Robertson said it also explored whether the mandatory nature of the scheme for sentences of 10 years and above might be causing reductions in the head sentence lengths for these serious offences.
“This might be because the only way to reflect an offender’s guilty plea and other mitigating factors, such as cooperation with law enforcement, is to reduce the head sentence, rather than set earlier parole eligibility,” he said.
“Finally, we are interested in receiving feedback about whether the scheme is structured in the right way, and is targeting the right types of offences and offenders.”
QSAC member Dan Rogers, who is also the project’s sponsor and a prominent Brisbane criminal solicitor, said the council was committed to considering all the information and evidence to ensure its final advice and recommendations were in the best interests of the Queensland community and that sentencing reflected the seriousness of this offending behaviour.
“We know the review we are undertaking is highly technical, but I still want to strongly encourage community members to share their views,” Mr Rogers said.
“It is important we gather as many views as possible about the scheme and its impact on Queensland’s criminal justice system.
QSAC has until 11 April 2022 to submit its report and recommendations to government.
Written feedback is encouraged by close of business Friday 17 December 2021.
Submissions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or posted to or Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, GPO Box 2360, Brisbane QLD 4001.