Sunday, July 17, 2011

Legal aid warning on sentences for young

Adrian Lowe | The Age | 13 July 2011
VICTORIA Legal Aid has called on the state government to scrap its plans for statutory minimum sentences for some young offenders.
It says there could never be a mandatory sentencing regime that effectively limited risks of inappropriate jail time for young people.
The organisation has warned that strict mandatory sentences means that disproportionate sentences would be imposed for less serious offences and make court delays worse.
The government in May asked the Sentencing Advisory Council to consider its proposal to impose statutory minimum jail terms for assault offences that were committed with ''gross violence''.
The government plans that for adults, the minimum term would be four years, and for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds, two years. Legal Aid, in its submission to the council, says there is ''overwhelming evidence'' that mandatory sentencing does not create safer communities, that ''rigid rules'' create injustice in individual cases and justice is best served by tailoring responses to each case and offender.
Attorney-General Robert Clark has previously said that the changes will affect only the worst offenders and it was important to send a message to the community that ''gross violence will have serious consequences''. The council's advice to the government is due in September.
Legal Aid funds representation for 76 per cent of accused people in serious criminal cases and almost all cases in the Children's Court.
It has recommended that mandatory sentencing can never be imposed that would effectively limit inappropriate imprisonment for young people. It has made 15 recommendations to ''avoid or limit the potential problems'' of the current proposal. ''While a prison term is plainly sometimes appropriate for children who commit very serious violent offences, those cases are generally not ones in which a sentence would need to be compelled to impose a mandatory sentence to achieve that outcome,'' the submission states. Other recommendations include:
■ If mandatory sentencing for young people is imposed, the minimum be much less than two years' jail.
■ That judges be able to abandon the mandatory minimum if satisfied it would be ''plainly unjust''.
■ Mandatory sentencing should apply only to intentional conduct, not reckless conduct.
Legal Aid said that while the government had the right to alter sentencing, the best ways to do so were through changing the maximum penalties for offences, altering the parole system or through baseline sentences.

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