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Law Council strongly opposed to mandatory sentencing, NT told.



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Media Release

LAW COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA

25 March 1999

Law Council Strongly Opposed to Mandatory Sentencing, NT Told

The mandatory sentencing regime in the Northern Territory is harsh, leads to unfair results, and is ineffective in deterring offenders or reducing recidivism rates, the Law Council of Australia has told the Northern Territory Government.

The President of the Law Council, Mr Fabian Dixon, has sent a letter to the Chief Minister and Attorney-General of the Northern Territory, the Hon. Denis Burke MLA, stating the Law Council's opposition to the legislation. It follows similar representations made to Mr Burke by the Law Society of the Northern Territory.

Mr Dixon sent the letter following last Saturday's full meeting of the Law Council, at which it was unanimously resolved that the Council strongly opposes mandatory sentencing.

The Law Council comprises twelve of the bar associations, law societies and law institutes of the states and territories of Australia. Through these bodies, the Law Council represents approximately 35,000 practising lawyers.

"The mandatory sentencing legislation currently being used in the Northern Territory is draconian" said Mr Dixon.

"Most seriously, the legislation removes the discretion of the courts to decide a penalty which fits the individual circumstances of the crime and the offender. To prevent the courts from making such decisions is a very dangerous path for justice to tread.

"This legislation has led to many people being imprisoned for trifling offences, for example, 14 days' gaol for the theft of a can of beer. It is ridiculous that people are being gaoled for such minor offences, particularly where they have had no prior convictions.

"Research has shown that mandatory sentencing has had little effect on the existing pattern of unlawful entry offences in the Darwin region, and has caused little change in public perception of property targeted offences.

"In short, the statistics completely rebut any argument that mandatory legislation is being effective in deterring offenders or reducing recidivism rates.

"The legislation also contravenes a number of treaties to which Australia is a signatory, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates that imprisonment of children must be viewed as an option of absolute last resort."

The Law Council has indicated to the Northern Territory Government that:

  • mandatory sentencing should not apply to Aboriginal people, especially given that it contravenes Recommendation 92 of the Ro yal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody which urges governments to enact legislation that ensures imprisonment of Aboriginals is a sanction of 'last resort' and given the difficulties encountered by way of family contact when people from remote co mmunities are imprisoned for trifling offences;
  • mandatory sentencing should not apply to juveniles;
  • the mandatory period of twelve months' imprisonment for third and subsequent convictions should no longer apply;
  • courts should be given the discretion to refrain from imposing the mandatory sentence where it is established that, having regard to the particular circumstances of the offender, it is not in the interests of justice to do so.

"The Law Council is also very concerned with recent comments attribu ted to Mr Burke, that the mandatory sentencing regime has been highly successful and that he is considering the possibility of widening the scope of the legislation" said Mr Dixon.

"The Law Council is of the view that there is no justification whatsoever for the extension of mandatory sentencing to other crimes."

Media contact: Patrick Daley on (02) 6247 3788 bh or 0419 269 855 ah.

 

 

 

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