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Court of Appeal: Short jail terms can be life-changing

The effects of very short terms of imprisonment – no matter how long – can have life-changing implications for people ordered into custody, according to the Queensland Court of Appeal (COA).

In a decision published yesterday, the court set aside a decision that Peter Rogan serve a minimum two months of a 12-month jail sentence imposed by a District Court judge on 24 September.

The court was told Rogan was sent to jail and ordered to pay $2000 compensation after pleading guilty to one count of indecent assault while attending a friend’s party on 18 July 2020.

District Court Judge Brad Farr SC, in jailing Rogan, concluded that due to the serious nature of the offending it was appropriate Rogan serve two months of the year-long prison term behind bars.

Rogan sought leave to appeal Judge Farr’s decision in the COA on the grounds that serving an actual term in custody was manifestly excessive.

COA President Walter Sofronoff, in his written four-page decision, granted Rogan leave to appeal – saying imprisonment was “not just a matter of the loss of liberty”.

“A very short term of imprisonment can have large effects,” Justice Sofronoff said. “Apart from the stigma which imprisonment carries, it may affect present and future employment, housing arrangements and all kinds of financial arrangements.

“The effects of prison extend to whatever experiences are undergone in prison, which may occur even within a short period.

“Consequently, the imposition of a very short term of imprisonment is not just a matter of the loss of liberty for a particular period.”

Justice Sofronoff also noted Rogan had expressed genuine remorse by way of a letter which addressed “his shame and disappointment in himself” for having caused his victim upset and distress.

“(Mr Rogan) has no criminal history,” he said. “He has an excellent employment history. In this case, there was evidence of real remorse, acknowledgement of wrongdoing and insight, as well as the timely plea of guilty.

“In my view, in the circumstances of this case, there was no benefit to the community to be served by (Rogan) having to serve a further period of actual incarceration.”

Justice Sofronoff, in a decision supported by COA Justices Philip McMurdo and Frances Williams, granted Rogan leave to appeal and ordered that his 12-month prison term be suspended immediately.

Read the decision.

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