Aja Styles | WA Today | 20 October 2011
The father of a Bunbury teenager who was gunned down in 2007, says he feels "bittersweet" about proposed increases to manslaughter penalties.
Attorney General Christian Porter yesterday introduced new law reforms to Parliament that would increase the maximum penalty for manslaughter and dangerous driving causing death to life in prison.
Mr Porter said the changes were intended to act as a deterrent and to bring justice in line with community expectations after much publicised outrage following the deaths of Lawrence Dix and William Rowe.
Mr Rowe, a father of five, was bashed to death with a cricket bat on a Geraldton Beach in 2007. His killer received five years' jail, with a minimum three years and nine months, after pleading guilty to manslaughter.
Mr Dix, 19, was shot during an argument outside his house over a $100 drug debt. Jack Benjamin Hall, 20, fired a single shot from the backseat of a car and pleaded guilty to manslaughter after a hung jury failed to convict him of murder.
Hall was sentenced to four years and three months in jail, but only served just over two years.
To this day Steve Dix says the punishment never fit the crime but he remains in "two minds" about the reforms.
"It's a bit of a bittersweet sort of feeling, the bitter bit is basically it doesn't change our lives at all and it just forces us back into a space we were in four and a half years ago and it isn't a good space to be in and I wouldn't wish that on anybody," he told Radio 6PR late yesterday.
"But look the sweet bit of it, I suppose, is in terms of the future. If in cases similar to ours, where the context of the case is very complex and very technical, and is a murder trial and [the outcome] defaults to manslaughter at least judiciary will have some options to play with."
He said he thought Hall would face seven to 10 years for admitting to manslaughter but Supreme Court Justice Ralph Simmonds relied upon a sentencing for a different drive-by shooting in Port Hedland, which was much less and meant Hall was able to get parole in two years and three months time.
"He's finished his parole and is now walking the streets of Bunbury a free man (and) paid his debt to society," he said.
"We're still dealing with the grief of our loss. It's ours forever until we leave this mortal coil."
He said the issue was not so much introducing things like mandatory sentences or extending the maximum from 20 years to life but getting judges to issue prison terms at the upper end of the scale.
"I'd just like to think that judges would use their training and commonsense and deep understanding of the law to be able to put a sentence in place that .. will actually give [the community] a feeling of greater confidence," he said. "And this is where I feel the issue is; it's about community and public confidence in the judiciary."
He said Mr Porter was moving in the right direction.
Law Society President Hylton Quail however disagrees, calling the reforms "unnecessary".
"We're opposed to the increased penalties to the law reforms," he said. "Through the review in 2007 we got new penalties and homicide laws in 2008. It is absolutely unnecessary for any further review."
Mr Quail however did agree with bringing all charges related to dangerous driving causing death into the District Court to create more consistency in sentencing.
But he said that like manslaughter, there was a whole spectrum of circumstances that had to be taken into account and severe punishment for a moment's mistake in an otherwise blameless life was not what the community wanted.
"We have already seen courts respond to community expectation by issuing sentences that are into double figures, whereas before it was only two to three years," he said. "Ten and 20 years [maximum] are already high."