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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 2 Hansard (19 May) . . Page.. 314 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

The other significant factor which the Australian Law Reform Commission raises - I think it is a very moot point and a very strong point - is that courts in effect do not, as part of their operations, have a capacity for determining the prevalence of an offence in a community. There is no research capacity within our courts to determine whether or not a particular offence, at the time that the person before them committed the offence, actually was prevalent. They rely for their opinions on that, probably most commonly, on media reports. This was an issue which the Australian Law Reform Commission gave some moment to; that courts, in determining the prevalence of an offence at a particular time, are in fact dependent on perceptions which they gain from the media.

With great respect to the media and with great respect to opinion leaders such as legislators and politicians, I think it is not a sound criminal justice principle or sentencing principle to rely on the perceptions of local media, or of politicians, or of those within our community who do express concern about the prevalence of particular offences within the community. The so-called law and order push does exist. We must all admit that from time to time there are grave and justified community concerns about the level of crime. It is nevertheless the fact that from time to time we, as a community, experience a wave of public concern about a particular offence which might not necessarily be reflected in the facts.

Just recently the Minister for Justice launched a Government program to deal with the question of perceptions of crime being out of touch with reality. This happens. It is a feature of almost every community. There are concerns about the prevalence of crime, concerns about how safe our communities are, concerns about the extent to which we are being subjected to a barrage of armed hold-ups. There are concerns that we, as a community, are continually being subjected to knife attacks; that we are not safe on the streets because of the number of knives.

These are campaigns that run from time to time, and the police will tell you invariably, and our Government is telling us in terms of the programs which it is funding, that the perceptions that are created in relation to these issues are not matched by reality; that in fact our perceptions as a community about the level of crime are not matched by the statistics. Yet these are the same perceptions which courts and judges have. They do not have an independent capacity, when they have a certain person before them, to determine whether or not their perception of the extent or the prevalence of a particular crime is matched by the statistics. They simply do not have that capacity within their courts to make those judgments. They rely on a perception, however generated.

I think those are the two most significant objections to this proposal. There are some other concerns. I understand that the so-called scrutiny of Bills committee, the committee that no longer exists, has reported on this. This report has been tabled, has it?

MR SPEAKER: Yes, it has.

MR STANHOPE: I thought I might have been breaching privilege or something. The scrutiny of Bills committee felt it was important that a particular aspect of the Crimes (Amendment) Bill (No. 2) be drawn to the Assembly's attention, and I make that point now. I think it is really important that we have regard to this and that we consider it

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