CRIMES AMENDMENT (GROSS VIOLENCE OFFENCES) BILL 2012
It is with pleasure that I rise to make a contribution on the Crimes Amendment (Gross Violence Offences) Bill 2012. This week there has been significant discussion about reform proposals in the sentencing area, which comes on the back of some disturbing events that have occurred in our community — some shocking crimes that have shocked people in our state, our country and internationally. We have seen an increasing focus on the heinous nature of domestic violence in our community and attempts to address those issues.
In recent times we have also seen patterns emerge regarding violence, particularly between young male offenders out on the town or in situations where disagreements get out of control, kicks or punches are thrown and devastating consequences occur. These policy discussions and this legislation are viewed against the backdrop of those and other issues.
In Victoria one of the bedrocks of our civilised society and our approach to community is that there are fair trials and that the rights of every person are balanced through those trials, with particular emphasis, as there should be, on the rights of victims and the impact of crimes on those victims. Part of this approach requires that the process of fair trials is protected but that community expectations are also met through the judicial and sentencing processes. It requires a strong, robust and well-resourced program of crime prevention and diversion and appropriate legislative and policing responses to new and emerging crimes and/or patterns of criminal behaviour that occur.
The bill, at least in part, attempts to deliver on an election commitment regarding two new gross violence offences and makes reference to minimum sentences. As has been highlighted by previous speakers, members on this side of the house will not be opposing the bill. We note that the increase in violent acts, often between strangers, as I mentioned before, should cause all of us extreme and deep concern, and a holistic response is required.
Our concern with the bill is that it does not deliver what was promised by the coalition government prior to the election. We note that it includes a range of special reasons which allow a court to not apply a four-year minimum term.
They include the age of the offender, their maturity or immaturity, their impaired mental functioning at the time of the offence, whether they have assisted law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of an offence, and whether a hospital treatment order has been proposed for the offender. Then there is the cover-all exception to the proposed four-year term which relates to substantial and compelling circumstances.
We note the bill requires a court to have regard to the reference to a four-year term in circumstances of the two new offences for gross violence, but we note also that considerable discretion is allowed to the court in relation to a sentence not being imposed — which brings me to the issue of community expectations regarding sentencing, particularly around issues of gross violence and/or some of the other issues that have been touched on. In that context it is important to highlight the announcement this week by the Leader of the Opposition regarding the proposal to let juries have a say in sentencing.
The proposal is that there would be a trial, which would allow juries to advise judges of their views regarding appropriate sentencing outcomes in relation to serious indictable offences. That is, after a verdict of guilty is delivered but before sentencing, jurors would be provided with the range of information that judges currently are given regarding victim impact statements, presentencing reports and submissions. While the judge would not be required to concur with the jury’s view, he or she would be required to outline the reasons for departing from the recommendations in the sentencing judgement along with any reasons for the disagreement.
This is a major and important reform that is being proposed by the opposition. It is designed to and in fact will deliver a greater say for the community in appropriate sentencing, particularly in relation to some of the emerging patterns of criminal behaviour.
It will ensure that the community’s expectations are met regarding the sentencing process, that there is greater openness and transparency and a greater understanding on the part of the community about sentencing processes, while not cutting down judicial discretion, which is an important cornerstone of our justice system.
We believe this is a much more active, relevant and effective approach that will cover the range of serious indictable offences, not just a single one. While we are with the government in terms of responding to gross violence and to some of the emerging patterns of criminal behaviour, we are concerned that this bill does not deliver on promises made and that the government should be very clear when discussing the impact of this bill not to gild the lily and not to make it into something it is not. We believe the best approach is a holistic approach — an approach that covers all crimes and that involves the jury in sentencing, as we have already proposed this week.
We think that would better deliver the community expectation of a role in sentencing than this single bill delivers. In saying that, we do not oppose the bill, and with that I will conclude my remarks.