Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1997 Week 4 Hansard (6 May) . . Page.. 971..
Debate resumed from 20 February 1997, on motion by Mr Humphries:
That this Bill be agreed to in principle.
MR WOOD (11.00): Mr Speaker, the Opposition will be supporting these amendments, which the Minister claims to be of a minor nature. I might point out that, based on the Minister's arguments, we were not originally inclined to support the last of the amendments - that is, clause 8 of this Bill. I think the Minister posed a very poor argument in support of that amendment. He said that it will "benefit the criminal justice system by saving costs and shortening court lists". That might be convenient for the courts, and it might be convenient for the Government's budget, but I do not think it is a good argument to support this clause. If the Minister had said that he brings this forward expecting that a person accused might be showing remorse, or might be contrite about the alleged offence, then I would consider that a better argument.
The clause proposes that not just a plea of guilty is taken into account by the court in determining a sentence, but also the timing of that plea. I can see circumstances - we would trust it does not happen in the ACT - where police officers would lean fairly heavily on an accused and say, "If you plead guilty you will get a better sentence", or, leaning even more heavily, say, "If you plead guilty tonight, son, you will get an even lighter sentence". I am sure the Minister can understand the concerns we have. I do not think it is at all appropriate to be arguing that if this reduces the costs it is therefore a good amendment. We should be thinking only of the proper process in the courts and the rights of the accused. So, for those reasons, we were not disposed to support this amendment, because I think the Minister argued badly for it.
Nevertheless, the facts are that, in sentencing, courts are allowed a considerable discretion. If an accused shows remorse, that can be considered. A guilty plea itself, as the Minister points out, has always been a consideration. So the timing of that plea, if there is none of that undue pressure that I mentioned, may also be considered. The Minister does make the point that this simply restates the common law. So we will be supporting this amendment. The overriding factor for this support is the condition that this is what happens anyway. It is already the principle that applies in our courts, and this amendment does no more than write it into the Crimes Act.
Mr Humphries: No; that is not true.
MR WOOD: I have other information. I am not convinced that that is the case and that your interjection is accurate, Mr Humphries.
Mr Humphries: From where, Bill? Where does this other information come from? Can you table it?
MR WOOD: No. I have no doubt about that advice I have received. For these reasons, Mr Speaker, the Opposition, with reservation, will be supporting this clause in this Bill, as it will the others.