A topic that has continued to receive considerable attention, both in online commentary and in what our lawyers have been hearing from people raising it at social gatherings, has been the proposal by Government to strip away powers from the Queensland judiciary.
For approximately a month the Attorney-General of Queensland Jarrod Bleijie has spoken about taking away powers from judges to set suspended sentences and/or court-ordered parole. This essentially means that judges will no longer be able to set release dates or issue suspended sentences.
Two of the arguments in favour of this policy, which was raised in The Courier Mail article written by Viellaris and Ironside on this story, was that it follows "Government concerns crooks are being let out too early" and 'offenders not conducting rehabilitation to change their offending behaviour'.
Brittany White, a former government prosecutor and experienced criminal lawyer at Quinn & Scattini, explains her concern with a 'government of the day' proceeding ahead with populist law and the potential implications.
"I am of the view that this is merely a populist law and though I know there would be legitimate concern amongst the community about offenders not being adequately punished this law treats punishment in an overly simplistic manner.
In bringing about any reform it is important that we do not have a situation where our judges have no powers to look at a situation on a case by case basis. If the government of the day changes the law on sentencing discretion so readily, we risk a situation where we politicise our judicial system and violate our separation of powers doctrine, which is one of the cornerstones of our constitution and fair government in Australia.
It is important that jail is treated as a last resort and judges are able to act in an impartial manner in determining the best course of action without political interference.
By incarcerating all individuals not suited to a community based order to actual imprisonment, we may be robbing them of their chances of rehabilitation by locking them away and putting them in an environment where they learn to become 'career criminals'.
Not every offender will reoffend. Quite often being exposed to the criminal justice system will shock a person into amending their behaviour so that they are not in the same situation again. Having a suspended sentence hanging over their head or being subject to the supervision of the parole board will also quite often be the instigator a person needs to improve their situation. Quite often people offend due to family or personal circumstances, drug and alcohol addictions, mental illness, or unemployment reasons.
Compulsory incarceration for a specified length of time costs tax payers a considerable amount of money. It also impacts the family of the offender, as they go through financial hardship without having access to the income of that individual. Furthermore, their transition back into the community is stigmatised resulting in their requiring rehabilitation and other support to assist them back into employment. Without this, the odds of reoffending may increase more than before being incarcerated."
Quinn & Scattini are not only passionate about community safety, but also in ensuring all people are able to receive uncompromising representation to protect their rights. In situations where a defendant pleads guilty we believe a judge should be allowed to determine the most appropriate penalty free from political interference of the government of the day.