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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2011 Week 10 Hansard (Wednesday, 21 September 2011) . . Page.. 4128 ..


to concerns about value for money of a stand-alone ACT sentencing advisory council. That may be the case but the fact remains that at the last election the ALP thought it necessary to pledge a commitment to gathering evidence that informs the government when it comes to sentencing in the territory.

A year later in 2009 the tripartisan Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety unanimously recommended that the ACT government consider the need to undertake a general review of sentencing in the ACT. What this bill will do is turn that talk into a reality. It will deliver the review and it will assist the Assembly adopt an evidence-based approach to sentencing law reform, and an evidence-based approach is important.

Before turning to the detail of the bill, I would like to stress exactly why an evidence-based approach to sentencing law reform is so important and why the Greens are concerned about the ad hoc nature of debate so far. In essence, evidence allows us to be smart on crime rather than falling into the old trap of being tough on crime. Evidence allows us to really tackle the problem of crime in a preventative way that works.

I would like to give two very practical examples of how evidence can tell us how well we are achieving the purposes of sentencing set out in the act five years ago. Purpose No 1 of sentencing under section 7 of the act is to “ensure that the offender is adequately punished for the offence in a way that is just and appropriate”. The last three words of that sentence are important—“just and appropriate.” The Greens agree with the starting principle that just and appropriate refers to a measure of community standards and we agree that courts should reflect community standards in the sentences they impose.

Recent research from Tasmania has given a very practical way of measuring whether or not sentences being impose actually are just and appropriate in the eyes of the community. I note that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court recently circulated the same research to all members in an email. It has also been the subject of an in-depth analysis on the ABC program Media Watch. What the research drew out was the importance of listening to informed community standards as opposed to perhaps community standards that are shaped by media commentators.

What the research showed is that when jurors were asked in the abstract what they thought of sentencing, they thought that judges were too lenient in the sentences was imposed. Too lenient was their first reaction. However, when the jurors were asked what they thought of the sentence imposed in the specific case that they sat through after they had heard all the facts, the results were vastly different. What was found was that in broad terms half of the jurors thought that the judge was too harsh in their sentence and the other half thought the judge was too lenient.

I think what this shows is that judges in Tasmania are hitting the middle of the spectrum of community views. Really, the judges in Tasmania perhaps deserve accolades because they, in some sense, are hitting the place exactly that the community expects when you look at the overall picture. This work could be replicated in the ACT in some form and this would give us a good indication of how well sentences are achieving purpose No 1 under the sentencing act.


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