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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 3 Hansard (6 March) . . Page.. 613 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

In relation to that, I have to say at the outset that, while I know that my dear colleagues in New South Wales have embraced sentencing guidelines, I am one of those who have always been inclined not to fetter or interfere with the independence of the judiciary. I am always concerned, in any discussion about sentencing guidelines, that it is really a veiled attempt to say to the courts, "We do not think you are doing much of a job. We appointed you to the job, we made you magistrates, we made you judges, but we simply do not trust you to do the job. We do not think you are up to it. We do not think you are actually being harsh enough. We do not think you are locking up enough people, and so actually we are going to try to interfere with your independence. We are going to interfere with the discretion you have in whatever way we can. Of course, we acknowledge that sentencing guidelines cannot be binding, but we want you to have a look at these sentencing guidelines, because we do not think you are doing much of a job."

I think it is vitally important that we respect the independence of the courts, the independence of the judiciary. That is what we appoint them for: we appoint them because they are experts, we appoint them to administer the law, we appoint them to exercise their discretion on the basis of everything they know. They will sit through a particular trial about the offender, about the offence, and know all that information that those of us who are at a distance from that process cannot know about.

It is always very easy and simplistic to respond to community campaigns or outcries in relation to a particular penalty by saying, "The courts have gone mad. They have gone so soft on crime." It is important that we always present this issue in context, particularly for legislators and governments, who are required to lead debate on these issues. We should say, "We appoint these people because we trust them. We appoint them because they are experts. We appoint them to sit through a trial process, and we expect them to bring their best judgment to bear." This notion "They are not doing their job properly. Let's introduce sentencing guidelines to try to keep them honest" is really something that we need to think very seriously about.

It is an area where we should resist political pressure, which would have us say, "We will cry with the crowd on this. We will ignore the independence of the courts and the judiciary. We will tell them how to do their jobs."

MS DUNDAS (11.33): I rise on behalf of the Australian Democrats to speak to this motion. Today, we have a continuation of the law and order rhetoric in the chamber. Yesterday, two laws were passed, one relating to the criminal code, the other an amendment to the Crimes Act, and tomorrow we will spend time debating a bill on drivers licences, which is another crime-related bill. Today, for something completely different, the Assembly is able to spend more time talking about crime.

Let's hope this does not turn into a bidding war on sentences and police powers in the way it has already become a bidding war about statistics. On Sunday, the Attorney-General re-announced a review into sentencing. This was an election promise of the ALP, and I am glad to see the Labor Party acting on its election promise. On the other side of the chamber, the Canberra Liberals promised to introduce sentencing guidelines, so I guess calling on the government to do so is also living up to their election promise.

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