Page 4100 - Week 13 - Tuesday, 15 November 2005

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MR STANHOPE: Mr Speaker, the government’s Crimes (Sentencing) Bill 2005 and Crimes (Sentence Administration) Bill 2005 will be a substantial improvement to the territory’s criminal justice system. The government’s legislation will provide our courts with one coherent act that governs sentencing decisions, and our corrections staff with one coherent act to administer sentences.

Consistency is a word often invoked abstractly when concerns are raised about particular sentences. Sentencing is not a mathematical task, but an act of judicial thinking that applies the law to the facts. As legislators, we cannot possibly account for the array of facts that may be before the court, but we can do our best to create a coherent framework of sentencing options and procedures.

The first thing practitioners will notice about these bills is the harmonisation of language, concepts and procedures. The sentencing bill is a compact expression of all of the sentencing dispositions and sentencing procedures for the ACT. Chapter 3 of the bill forms the core of sentencing options in the ACT; it is concise and direct.

In the case of Ryan and the Queen, decided in 2001, Justice Kirby of the High Court said:

… punishment imposed judicially must be proportionate to the individual features of the offences proved and to the considerations personal to the particular offender. These facts require that the sentencing judge must normally adjust the sentence to the circumstances of the case. In this respect, judges fulfil an important and complex function.

Justice Kirby’s comments reflect modern thinking on sentencing, namely, that the elements of a sentence need to be tailored to the offence and to the offender. The history of criminal law and punishment has not delivered any magic systems to stop crime or automatically rehabilitate offenders, but history does show that a blanket approach does not work. In the 1970s and 1980s, scholars on the subject deeply questioned the effectiveness of imprisonment and parole. In recent decades, as many questions have been raised about non-custodial sentences.

In May this year, Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, made the point that the issue is not whether society needs imprisonment, as it is an essential element of protecting the community from further crime and demonstrating society’s disapproval of serious crime. Lord Woolf observed that it is the positive steps in tackling offender behaviour, in prison and out of prison, that make a better contribution to stopping further crime.

Mr Speaker, the government’s sentencing bill aims to provide meaningful options to the courts to tackle offending behaviour. I will outline the key options for courts. The first is combination sentences. Courts will be able to customise the sentence to the offence, the offender and the circumstances of the offence. The option of combination sentences aims to improve the court’s ability to prevent and manage offending behaviour and to rehabilitate offenders. The court will have the flexibility of imposing any number of orders as part of a whole sentence. For example, the court may impose a sentence combining full-time imprisonment with a period of periodic detention, followed by a good behaviour order with a community service condition.

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