The ACT doesn’t need further sentencing or judgment guidelines because it just isn’t big enough to warrant them, the ACT’s top prosecutor has argued.
His comments come after a number of tragic deaths on the Territory’s roads, and calls for stricter and mandatory minimum sentences have garnered community support.
Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold this afternoon (18 November) told an ongoing inquiry into dangerous driving the ACT didn’t have some of the issues which larger jurisdictions like NSW come up against, and therefore, these guidelines weren’t necessary.
For example, he said sections of the NSW Crime Sentencing Procedure Act had a regime for guideline judgments that could apply to specific offences in specific courts or could be applied for by the Attorney-General.
Those guidelines are intended to help judges when sentencing offenders and ensure cases are treated the same way as like ones.
“One needs to look at what that is seeking to address,” he told the hearing.
“In NSW, you have a large number of judges in a number of jurisdictions … and one might think you might get a range of sentences and large disparities in sentences which may have an impact on the confidence people have in the criminal justice system.”
Mr Drumgold said the same factors relating to size and distance didn’t apply to the Territory as there were only five judges in the Supreme Court jurisdiction.
“We simply don’t have the divergence of judicial officers, which I think the NSW guidelines are seeking to address because it is such a small jurisdiction,” he explained.
If the DPP decided a sentence in the ACT needed to be reviewed, Mr Drumgold said two or three judges out of the five could look at it through the Court of Appeal.
Dr Marisa Paterson, who sits on the committee, questioned whether that could become a problem if sentences being handed down were “low”.
But Mr Drumgold said consistency in sentencing was not a problem, inconsistency was.
“If you go to remote NSW in a district court and get six or seven years but go to inner Sydney and get 12 or 13 years for the same type of offending – that would be a problem,” he said.
“We have a small jurisdiction but a very experienced judiciary in the ACT so we tend to have consistency.”
Dr Paterson went on to question whether reviews of these sentences were taking place to see whether sentences being handed down were coming close to the maximum penalty.
Mr Drumgold said a review had been done in 2011 because there had been some inconsistencies prior to that.
Afterwards, maximum penalties were brought into line with other jurisdictions around the country.
He said sentences handed down in the Territory, particularly in matters where a death occurred, were compared with similar ones in other jurisdictions, and his office would seek to appeal if the ACT seemed to move away from others.
Mr Drumgold said it was important to ensure these didn’t go unchecked as that could set a precedent.
Mr Drumgold wished every family comfort who had lost a loved one in a road accident whether or not it had a criminal element, but he said the criminal justice system could not ease that pain.
“The criminal justice system is designed to uncover the truth and arrive at a sentence that furthers one of the provisions in the sentencing act, whether that is general or specific deterrence, denouncing the action or punishment and rehabilitation,” Mr Drumgold said.
“Not all of those things move in the same direction … and the role of the court is to balance all of those competing things.”
Mr Drumgold said the court could do that with “wide discretion” which he believed was a good thing.
He said his general view was that all law reform should be based on logic not solely on emotion and any changes to the ACT’s bail regime must be made with caution and with a view to any unintended consequences.
Mr Drumgold said bail considerations at the moment were clear.