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Speakers outline mandatory dangers

Speakers outline mandatory dangers

barbed-wireLegal gurus and an MP outline how dangerous mandatory sentences are at a Sydney rally as NSW continues its questionable solution to a relatively minor problem c.f. domestic violence.

 Notes taken at Public Forum on Mandatory Sentencing,  NSW Parliament House, 29th January 2014.

Speakers:  Nicolas Cowdery, former Director of Public Prosecutions for NSW, Stephen Blanks, NSW CCL, Stephen Odges, NSW Bar Association, David Shoebridge, NSW Greens MP. Forum facilitated by David Shoebridge.

Attendees:  Estimate 60-70 people.  NSW Attorney General and Opposition AG invited but did not attend.

David Shoebridge said NSW Parliament will be asked to vote tomorrow (30th January)  on new laws aimed at reducing violent assaults in Sydney’s Kings Cross and surrounds.  There will be little time for reading the bill because the proposals will not be available to MPs until 9 am.  Some of the laws, possibly mandatory sentencing, will be held back until the end of February, creating an opportunity for those who oppose these laws to lobby their State MPs.

Nicolas Cowdery said that these laws would create injustice.  His knowledge of the laws was confined to what he had read in the Press, given the government will not make them public until tomorrow.

Proposed laws:

  • Increase of 2 years maximum sentence in each of the 9 existing assault related offences with mandatory minimums of 2, 3, 4 or 5 years.
  • One new offence – 1 punch while intoxicated leading to death – a maximum of 25 years, minimum 8 years.

There is already a law for manslaughter with maximum of 25 years.  No provisions for parole.

Cowdery said there is no place for mandatory minimum sentences.  (Northern Territory have repealed, USA winding it back.) Academic studies show mandatory minimums do not increase deterrent.

Problems with mandatory sentencing:

Discretion moves from judges and magistrates to police and prosecutors to decide on charges.  (Possibility of police inflating charges to secure a conviction.)

Bail refused more often, increase in people on remand, more defended trials, more time in courts, delays, longer time for victim resolution.

Cowdery referred to article in weekend SMH (25-26 January, 2014) by Jacob Saulwick outlined projected costing of these new laws.

Stephen Blanks NSW CCL spoke on civil liberty implications.  Said proposed laws a direct attack on the system of rule of law  by interfering with the judge’s discretion.

  1. Proposed laws give no account of mitigating circumstances concerning the offender or the victim.
  2. Acknowledged recent assaults need to be addressed but those proposed are knee jerk reactions to a media campaign.  Its a disproportionate response. New laws should be evidence based and rigorously prepared. P
  3. Possibility of raising international concerns about human rights if they discriminate against Aboriginals or other minority groups.

Stephen Odgers, NSW Bar Association

Mandatory sentences are unjust.  They give no weight, for example, to extreme provocation. Recidivism rate high – jails tend to create more criminals.

  1. Anomalies.  Assaults treated differently whether sober or not sober.  Current law allows for a sober offender to receive some discretion in sentencing – none for the intoxicated one.
  2. On the Loveridge case where the judge’s sentence considered too light by the public.   This  case is on appeal.    The government has expedited the proposed mandatory sentencing laws etc. before allowing the system a chance to correct itself.
  3. Not allowing the standard non-parole period is draconian.

David Shoebridge, NSW Greens MP

Shoebridge emphasised projected increase in inmate population.  Jails already overcrowded.  There are nearly 10,000 prisoners in NSW jails now at the cost of around $300 per day.

Possible consequences  are increased Aboriginal prison population, incarceration of the mentally ill (already a high proportion of inmates), or ruination of the career prospects of a drunken university student who tugs at a policeman or woman’s shirt – that is an assault charge under the proposed law.

Shoebridge showed a short video where actors played out versions of assault which would incur mandatory minimum sentences with no discretion as to the circumstances.  Frightening stuff!

Diana Simmons 30.01.14

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