10 May 2024

'We are a unique sh-tshow': ACT's dangerous driving sentencing practices slammed

| Claire Fenwicke
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Tom McLuckie

Tom McLuckie has been campaigning for tougher sentences and law reform around dangerous driving since his son’s death in 2022. Photo: Albert McKnight.

Better justice housing, improved rehabilitation programs and more emphasis on justice for victims – these are some upgrades Tom McLuckie thinks will stop dangerous drivers on our roads.

He’s outlined his argument in a submission to the ACT’s Law Reform and Sentencing Advisory Council (LRSAC) which is looking into sentencing practices for recidivist and dangerous drivers.

Mr McLuckie’s 20-year-old son Matt was killed in a head-on collision on 19 May, 2022. Shakira Adams has been charged over the incident and is before the courts.

The founder of ACTNOWforSaferRoads, Mr McLuckie has been gathering data in relation to sentencing practices for dangerous drivers in the Territory.

In his submission, he said the judicial system wasn’t appropriately using the sentencing guidelines at its disposal.

“The maximum sentence for culpable driving was increased from seven years to 14 years maximum sentence in 2012, yet actual penalties applied have continued to fall, in both head sentences and actual time served incarcerated,” he submitted.

“The purposes of sentencing do not appear to be consistently applied and the purpose of rehabilitation is consistently given more weight than the other purposes.”

line graph

Figures compiled by Tom McLuckie show sentencing trends for culpable driving offences since 2010. Photo: Tom McLuckie.

He referred to a number of Supreme Court judgements which he argued showed many recent sentences for culpable driving offences were “manifestly lenient”.

Mr McLuckie also took issue with the argument that the ACT had some of the toughest sentencing options for dangerous driving crimes in the country.

“The ACT Sentencing Act [definition of] ‘terms of imprisonment’ also includes suspended sentences (full and partial), intensive corrective orders … and drug and alcohol treatment orders,” he submitted.

“[So] the reality is across most MV [motor vehicle] crimes there is only a small percentage of those sentenced who actually face a term of imprisonment.

“Many ‘head’ sentences appear to be high, but when the combination of the sentence is considered, are incredibly lenient.”

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He submitted his research found that while 54 per cent of culpable driving sentences in 2022-23 were custodial, only 37 per cent included any time in prison.

Mr McLuckie outlined examples which showed justices had gone against recommendations in pre-sentencing reports, which he felt suggested “judicial bias” in the system.

However, he argued that even if tougher sentences or new offences such as vehicular manslaughter were introduced, the “current sentencing jurisprudence” (i.e. theory of law) in the ACT meant it was “unlikely” this would result in any actual increase in penalties.

“We are a unique sh-tshow, with a failing justice system where every key indicator of our performance compared to the rest of the country shows we are the worst performing state or territory … I repeat, the worst,” Mr McLuckie submitted.

“Ultimately it is the victims left bewildered at the injustice forced upon them by our judiciary.”

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Mr McLuckie made a number of suggestions to the council about how to change dangerous driving behaviours in Canberra.

This included better funding of community-based sentencing and support, rehabilitation programs and justice housing.

“Our prison system is a recognised disaster completely incapable of providing the most basic of appropriate rehabilitation programs to sentenced persons. This is reflected in two Healthy Prison reports covering a period of six years,” Mr McLuckie submitted.

“Until there is a genuine commitment from the ACT Government to fund community justice solutions … then continuing to approach sentencing with a community focus is not keeping the community safe.”

He also took aim at the ACT’s human rights-focussed system, arguing it appeared offenders were more equal and protected than victims under our laws.

“Whilst it is an unpopular concept with our more woke and progressive politicians, punishment is still part of our purposes of sentencing,” Mr McLuckie submitted.

“The adoption of our blinkered, non-evidenced progressive policies, the lack of funding or actual justice reinvestment, has resulted in a justice strategy where ideology over fact is the preferred approach.

“This is at the very heart of the continued and worsening functions of our justice system in the ACT.”

Mr McLuckie argued sentences should not only consider an offender’s circumstances and chances at rehabilitation, but also ensure the offender was “adequately punished”, provided specific and general deterrence, protected the community, made the offender accountable and denounced their behaviour, and recognised the harm done to the community and the victim(s).

He said particularly if someone died as a result of an offender’s actions on the road.

“No greater harm can be done than to deny someone their right to life. This should never be given more weight than promoting the rehabilitation of the offender,” his submission concluded.

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Is the submission Mr McLuckie has put forward likely to have a balance to it given he’s a secondary victim to the very offence in issue?
We cannot have victims of crime sitting on sentencing advisory boards. This much is obvious.

Tom, I agree we are a unique sh-tshow. I am quite moderate on such issues. Had I stumbled on such conversations, without my recent experiences, I might have thought you were being a bit harsh. It can’t be that bad, they know there’s things to be done and they’re doing them – right? Nobody could have convinced me just how wrong that assumption was. However, based on my recent experience, you are being far too generous.

Our mis-carriage of justice system has gaping chasms of hubris and ineptitude. I was very pleased our AG kindly mansplained that we have a very complex system of laws and the paramount importance of protecting human rights to me.

Shame he seems to have no actual grasp of the purpose, function and importance of an effective justice system, or its role in promoting equal opportunities and ensuring that every person has access to their basic human rights. That’s probs a bit much for a chief lawmaker right!

I agree with Tom McLuckie and feel that Shane Rattenbury has been playing down the whole issue of of slack sentences for perpetrators who continually break bail conditions. This is especially true of teenagers who steal cars and then try to outrun the police. They are in effect, potential murders on wheels. Also the police and the Courts should look into whether parents of such teens should also be charged if they are not supervising their children properly.

Justice has nothing to do with revenge – or, unfortunately under
our present system, even with redress.
OF COURSE rehabilitation is what matters, as well as deterrence – these are what saves FUTURE victims. Increasing sentences beyond a reasonable level is useless for this, clearly not entering offenders’ minds

Tom McLuckie3:43 pm 12 May 24

S7.2 Crimes Sentencing ACT states no purpose of sentencing should be given more weight than any other. Yes, rehabilitation is one of the seven purposes but through proportionality, our sentencing should be reflective based on objective seriousness and moral culpability against the yardstick of the legislated maximum sentences. Our judiciary cannot pick and choose to ignore the direction from our legislature. If our politicians don’t like the sentencing act stating punishment is one of the purposes of sentencing, the. They can take that to the next election and have it removed. But the courts are not applying the intent of the legislation.

He’s correct.

Something is truly wrong when you are punished more harshly for illegal parking than you are for stealing a car and driving it like a maniac.

A man who knows how to speak to power. Hard hitting, strong points, succinctly stated.

This man has done some truly detailed research and I’m shocked by the deliberate misrepresentations from the current government;

‘terms of imprisonment’ also includes suspended sentences (full and partial), intensive corrective orders

How can imprisonment ever mean running free in our community?


Time and time I read repeat offenders breaching these ‘intensive corrections’

Impossible if they truely were ‘imprisoned’

Failing me, failing my community.

“terms of imprisonment” includes suspended sentences in all Australian jurisdictions (and others) so far as I am aware.

What is your point, other than wanting to lock up more for longer?

Tom McLuckie3:27 pm 11 May 24

I’d do some research byline before saying something stupid. Victoria has not allowed suspended sentences since 2018, and in NSW a custodial sentence is only a term of imprisonment or intensive corrections order. In Vic it is an actual terms of imprisonment of deferral to a drug or alcohol treatment order. Know the facts before you pass judgement my friend. Just because the truth is not convenient please stop trying to deny actual evidence.

Hello Tom. To be clear, an intensive corrections order in NSW is a sentence of imprisonment served in the community (provided they commit no further offences and are supervised from time to time). In Vic imprisonment includes a DATO, where again the person is in the community, or a combined CCO, again part served in the community. I could look at other states if you like.
Franco demanded people be “truely [sic] imprisoned”, i.e. not “running free” as he would describe those not specifically locked up.

The terms of his comment were silly and my response and question to him stand.

Your strange intervention is somewhat incongruous.

Tom McLuckie3:56 pm 12 May 24

Thanks for repeating what I advised you, that there is inconsistent definitions of imprisonment between jurisdictions. In ACT Imprisonment, suspended sentences, intensive corrections orders and Drug and alcohol treatment orders are terms of imprisonment. If we calculated our terms of imprisonment based on VIC and NSW definitions of what is a term of imprisonment, instead of having 127 terms of imprisonment given for dangerous driving offences in the ACT (where only 37% involved incarceration and they were multi offence offenders), if we measured imprisonment as per VIC and NSW legislation, only 79 and 71 respectively would be a term of imprisonment So we are selling a furphy that we give out more terms of imprisonment than other jurisdictions because we are comparing apples and pears. Happy to share a full breakdown of 14 years of sentencing comparison for culpable driving offences between ACT and NSW if you want further information. It is on my actnow Facebook page.

Yes, I needed to make clear that Franco’s dichotomy was false, and silly.

It appears that you too favour locking up more people for longer.

A 2022 NSW study of their 2018 sentencing reforms found no difference in terms of re-offending, for better or worse. When reliable data non-selectively tracing inputs to outputs is provided here, I promise to take notice.

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