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Judge overturns jail term for repeat court offender

A judge has overturned a magistrate’s decision to jail a man for his “very casual disregard” for the court process by racking up his fifth offence for failing to appear when required – replacing it with a $500 fine.

Brisbane District Court Judge John Allen QC, in a decision published yesterday, allowed an appeal by Todd David Saunders against a month-long prison term imposed by a magistrate in July last year.

The court was told Saunders had a history of failing to comply with orders to appear in court, and was arrested by police and charged with his fourth and fifth failing to appear in court offences a year ago.

“On 26 July 2021, in the Magistrates Court at Brisbane, (Saunders) pleaded guilty to two offences of failing to appear in accordance with an undertaking contrary to section 33(1) of the Bail Act 1980 (Qld),” Judge Allen said in his written findings.

“One charge related to (Saunders’) failure to appear on 19 July 2021 at the Magistrates Court at Coolangatta, and the other charge related to (his) failure to appear on 20 July 2021 at the Magistrates Court at Southport.”

The court was told Saunders was refused watchhouse bail by police and held in custody when he was arrested on 25 July and spent an additional night behind bars after receiving one month’s imprisonment, before successfully being granted bail pending his appeal.

Judge Allen said: “The duty lawyer made submissions as to (Saunders’) chaotic circumstances, including lack of stable accommodation, and other stressors which contributed to his failures to appear.”

“The duty lawyer noted that (Saunders) had spent the previous night in custody in the watchhouse … (and) submitted that the Court should order a short period of probation to address considerations of personal deterrence and rehabilitation.”

However, the magistrate disagreed with the submission.

In his brief sentencing remarks the magistrate said:

“All right. Thank you. Stand up, thank you, sir. I have considered the elegant submissions of (your duty lawyer) in relation to your two most recent failing to appears (sic), which are the 19th of July and the 20th of July.

“Your criminal history reveals that you failed to appear on the 16th of November 2020 and also the 24th of May 2021 and also on the 7th of June 2021 as well. So this constitutes number 4 and number 5 of your failing to appears before this Court.

“Okay. You have a very casual disregard to your obligations to the Court. So in respect of the matter on the 19th of July, you are convicted and sentenced to 14 days (sic) imprisonment. And in relation to the second failing to appear on the 20th of July, you are sentenced to one months imprisonment.”

Saunders subsequently appealed the decision under section 222 of the Justices Act 1886 (Qld) to the District Court on the grounds the magistrate denied him procedural fairness in imposing a term of imprisonment.

In granting the appeal, Judge Allen said: “It is certainly arguable that the sentencing discretion miscarried because of the denial of procedural fairness.”

“The absence of adequate reasons for sentence lays a basis for further arguments that the sentencing discretion miscarried by reason of the learned Magistrate failing to have regard to the principle, (contained in the) Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld), that a sentence of imprisonment should only be imposed as a last resort.”

Judge Allen allowed Saunders’ appeal, set aside the imprisonment term and substituted it with a fine of $500 for both offences.

Read the decision.

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