ASHLEY HALL: The Victorian Government has hit back at critics of its plan to introduce a form of mandatory sentencing for the perpetrators of violent crimes.
A retired Supreme Court judge has told The World Today the Government's plan is dangerous and could lead to unjust penalties especially for juveniles.
It comes as the former New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery also weighs in, calling the plan misconceived.
The Victorian Government says it's just delivering what the people want.
Simon Lauder reports.
SIMON LAUDER: The Coalition won government in Victoria with its promise to be tough on crime.
The Attorney-General Robert Clark says he plans to keep that promise. The Government is even inviting public input on its overhaul of sentencing laws through an online survey.
ROBERT CLARK: While the advice of experts and the opinions of interest groups are important the views of all Victorians are also important and we're giving Victorians the opportunity to have their say.
SIMON LAUDER: The plan to introduce minimum jail terms of two years for 16 and 17 year olds who are convicted of violent crimes has been slammed by social justice and law groups. Now it's attracting criticism from interstate.
The former New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery QC told a conference in Melbourne this morning the policy is an attempt to buy votes.
NICHOLAS COWDERY: Talking about punishing people for the wrongs that they do to us makes them feel good and it makes their voters feel good. And they think that these are going to be reflected in votes at the next election which is really all that they are interested in.
SIMON LAUDER: As a Supreme Court judge Frank Vincent QC heard evidence about some of Victoria's most heinous crimes over more than two decades until his retirement two years ago.
FRANK VINCENT: The fixing of arbitrary minimums in any situation is an extremely dangerous course to adopt.
SIMON LAUDER: Mr Vincent says courts try to balance the seriousness of an offence and the circumstances of the offender when sentencing. He says without discretion a judge is in a very difficult position.
FRANK VINCENT: In relation to young people in particular the emphasis has generally been placed upon their immaturity at that time and the prospects of rehabilitation and so forth. It's a very difficult balance to strike in any situation.
Fixing of arbitrary minimum terms has about it a very serious potential for inappropriate sentencing and unjust sentencing.
SIMON LAUDER: Would it change some, not just sentences, do you think it would change judgements?
FRANK VINCENT: It would be very difficult. It would be hard to accommodate doing something that you as a judge had felt or felt was inherently wrong and socially destructive rather than being advantageous to the community and the individual concerned.
SIMON LAUDER: The Government also plans to introduce minimum sentences of four years for adults who commit violent crimes.
The Attorney-General Robert Clark says the mandatory periods will apply to all unless there are exceptional circumstances and they're yet to be determined.
ROBERT CLARK: Clearly you don't want to put anyone behind bars. But there are circumstances where people engage in violence that is so gross both in terms of its culpability and the degree of injuries inflicted that you need to put people behind bars both for effective deterrence and for the effect of protecting the community. And that's what the Government has committed to do.
SIMON LAUDER: But wouldn't your plan remove that discretion from a judge who is best placed having heard all the evidence?
ROBERT CLARK: Well as I say the offence is going to be carefully targeted to those examples of gross violence for which effectively there is no excuse - the deliberately planned attack, the stomping on incapacitated victims, the marauding gangs.
And then there will on top of that will be the option for genuinely exception circumstances.
But we've seen in Victoria in the past when the previous government legislated to allow unspecified exceptional circumstances when they have purported to abolish suspended sentences for serious crimes, that what was intended to be the exception became the rule. And that's what we are determined to ensure does not occur with this offence.
SIMON LAUDER: And why don't you believe that children, those under 18, should have their youth, immaturity and of course their positive potential taken into account?
ROBERT CLARK: Well that is already being taken into account in the fact that juveniles will be subject to a maximum period of two years detention compared with adults who will be subject to a maximum of four years, a minimum of four years detention.
But as I've said Magistrates Court, the Children's Court is already imposing sentences of between one and two years detention in more than half of the cases of juveniles convicted of intentionally causing serious injury. And that's not even having regard to the fact that our offence will be confined to instances of gross violence.
SIMON LAUDER: Victoria's Sentencing Advisory Council is due to deliver a report to government in September.
ASHLEY HALL: Simon Lauder.