At times angry, in tears or incredibly calm, grieving parents have told of the devastating toll the loss of a child has had on their lives.
The death of Bill Stefaniak’s 24-year-old son Jozef, and Camille Jago and Andrew Corney’s four-year-old son Blake, occurred in different ways.
Those parents are now united by a desire for their children’s deaths to at least amount to something – changes to penalties and sentencing – even though they know those changes won’t bring their loved ones back.
But the push for stricter sentences is alarming some, with lawyers arguing the system is sound.
An ACT Legislative Assembly committee is currently inquiring into dangerous driving and its first public hearing was held today. Two additional days of hearings will follow as it examines issues of sentencing, education and more.
Mr Stefaniak appeared this morning and told of the anguish his family had faced after the death of his son in a car accident in 2018.
“Joe was dead on impact … I had to see how he had been reconstructed before he was buried,” the former Canberra Liberals Leader said.
The other two people in the vehicle – including the speeding, unlicensed and ice-affected driver Angela Smith, who was later charged over Jozef’s death – fled the scene.
Ms Smith received a jail term of five years. As she reoffended after leaving prison, Mr Stefaniak feels the sentence was inadequate.
Mr Stefaniak wants stricter sentences for those who flee the scene of an accident – up from two years to 10. He also wants consistency with other states or even for Commonwealth sentencing guidelines to be put in place.
But he did not believe in mandatory minimum sentences anymore.
More police on the Territory’s roads and “pinging” people for more minor offences could also help, he thought.
Like Mr Stefaniak, Blake Corney’s parents, Camille Jago and Andrew Corney, believe the sentence given to the truck driver Akis Livas, who was charged with culpable driving causing the death of their son, was inadequate.
Mr Corney said three years and three months could have even been doubled without causing any alarm in the community and Ms Jago questioned why maximum sentences existed (14 years for causing culpable death) if nothing remotely close to them was ever handed down.
Ms Jago and Mr Corney said his prior crimes should have been further taken into account, but unlike Mr Stefaniak, Ms Jago is more concerned about average sentences, rather than maximum ones, being increased.
“I know there is a lot of talk about keeping people out of jail so they can have productive lives, but I would just like to say, as a victim of crime, I also have the right to a productive life,” she said.
Blake’s dimples and big smile, his joy for life and potential were remembered by his mother as his father suggested every lawmaker think of his experience – holding his son’s head as his skull came away to reveal his brain.
Both agreed that Commonwealth, or national sentencing guidelines, could be particularly useful given the small size of the Territory.
Mr Corney said mandatory sentencing should be considered but only in the cases of repeat offenders and serious crimes.
The ACT Law Society has “respectfully” raised the point it does not believe there is any quick fix to the death of anyone on the Territory’s roads.
It has also raised concerns that there is no evidence that suggests raising maximum penalties works as a deterrent.
Law Society Chair of the Criminal Law Committee Michael Kukulies-Smith said community expectations could not be expected to play a direct role in the sentencing regime.
“They are taken into account in the creation of the law, not the implementation of it,” he told the committee.
Paul Edmonds – also a member of the committee – said it was near impossible to measure community expectations and it raised the question of what part of the community would be represented.
“The family of a person who has tragically died as a result of a motor vehicle accident will obviously have a particular expectation as to what the appropriate sentence should be,” he said.
“But that may well be different to other parts of the community.”
Mr Edmonds said measuring community views by way of a straw poll after every serious offence or something similar was “a nonsense suggestion”.
“[Our] position is that the system is sound. We have an appellate system,” he said.
They called instead for an increase in funding to drug rehabilitation services given the likelihood of driving offences being related to substance abuse.
The ACT Government says the Justice and Community Safety (JaCS) directorate is currently exploring options for whether any legislative amendments are required to the Sentencing Act to ensure that prior criminal history is appropriately taken into account in sentencing.
The government does not support mandatory sentences but is beginning the preliminary work of looking into sentencing guidelines, its submission said.