Leading Queensland law groups have called for the abolition of mandatory sentencing laws that require people convicted and declared serious violent offenders to serve a minimum of 80% (or 15 years, whichever is the lesser) of their jail terms.
Queensland Law Society is one of 17 legal, government and service provider organisations to make submissions to the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council (QSAC) during its review of the 25-year-old laws enacted in 1997 to respond to concerns about community safety and serious violent crime.
In April last year, Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman tasked QSAC with a full review of the serious violent offences (SVO) provisions in the state’s Penalty and Sentences Act 1992.
The QLS submission was one of several raising concerns about the current SVO scheme – with Society President Kara Thomson saying the scheme should be abolished.
“QLS … would strongly support QSAC’s consideration of repealing the SVO scheme in its entirety on the basis that it does not achieve its proposed policy intent and risks unfair and unsatisfactory outcomes, including those which may be contrary to community protection,” Ms Thomson said in a 24 January submission.
“The Society’s position is that the SVO scheme ought to be abolished rather than replaced with a modified version.”
Ms Thomson said the current scheme required any person convicted of any deemed serious violent offence to serve 80% of their sentence (or 15-years, whichever is the lesser), and that a declaration was mandatory for sentences in excess of 10-years.
“QLS has maintained a strong stance against any form of mandatory sentencing,” she said. “Mandatory sentencing laws have the potential to lead to serious miscarriages of justice, are costly, and there is a lack of evidence to support their effectiveness as a deterrent or their ability to reduce crime.
“The Society’s opposition to the use of mandatory sentencing schemes is premised on the basis that such schemes impose unacceptable fetters on judicial discretion.”
The QLS submission seeking abolition of the scheme is supported by Australian Lawyers Alliance Queensland (ALA) President Sarah Grace, independent women’s criminal advocacy and prison support service Sisters Inside and Legal Aid Queensland (LAQ).
LAQ, in its 59-page submission, said: “The abolition of any form of a SVO scheme would give the courts complete judicial discretion in every case. This will promote consistency in sentencing and allow the courts to impose individualised justice while still imposing sentences that protect the community.”
Ms Grace said ALA was of the view that mandatory minimum sentencing schemes for particular offences, such as in the SVO scheme, did not enable consideration of individual circumstances or nuances for particular factual scenarios.
“ALA does not support the SVO scheme and submits … (it) should be abolished,” Ms Grace said.
Sisters Inside submitted that mandatory sentencing schemes, including for serious violent offences, were never appropriate and that judicial officers must always have full discretionary powers to determine sentences imposed.
“Mandatory sentencing schemes are never appropriate,” its submission said.
Other submissions, some of which advocate for continuation of the scheme under certain specified circumstances, have come from victims support networks such as Queensland Homicide Victim Support Group, Centre Against Sexual Violence, DVConnect and Queensland Sexual Assault Network.
QSAC member Dan Rogers, who is the SVO review project sponsor, last month said the Council would consider every submission carefully.
“We would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to make a submission to the Council,” Mr Rogers said. “Unsurprisingly, we are seeing a wide variety of opinions, with some stakeholders fully supporting the SVO scheme and calling for it to be strengthened and extended, and others indicating that they would like to see significant changes.
“We will weigh up all of this feedback carefully, together with the research evidence we have gathered, to provide the Queensland Government with evidence-based recommendations.”
As part of its review, QSAC has also carried out expert interviews, released a series of background papers, commissioned a literature review and consulted with victims of crime.
“It was critical that as many stakeholders as possible provided input before developing our recommendations,” Mr Rogers said. “We are particularly grateful to the victims of crime who have confidentially shared their experiences of the scheme with the Council.”
The council was due to submit its final report on 11 April, but Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman last week extended the report delivery deadline to 13 May.
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