Page 2588 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 5 June 2012

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Courts Legislation Amendment Bill 2012

Debate resumed from 10 May 2012, on motion by Mr Corbell:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (11.55): With the exception of the sentencing discount, the Canberra Liberals will be supporting the Courts Legislation Amendment Bill 2012. The primary focus of this bill is to establish a case management system for the Supreme Court. The system will cover both civil and criminal matters. Matters requiring listing for trial and certain other matters will be assigned to a docket judge shortly after lodgement and the judge will then manage the matters until finalisation. The explanatory statement tells us that docket systems have been used successfully in the United States and locally in the Federal Magistrates Court, the Federal Court and the Family Court.

As part of this system, elections for judge-alone trials will have to be made before the identity of the trial judge is known. This is already the case, but under the docket system this will need to happen even earlier. This will speed up the process of justice in the territory, or so we have been informed and so we hope.

The bill also establishes that the Magistrates Court will be able to order pre-sentence reports at the time they commit an offender to the Supreme Court for sentencing. This, too, will speed up the process.

The element of the bill the Canberra Liberals will not be supporting relates to sentence discounts, which include shorter non-parole periods. It is proposed that these shorter terms would be available when an offender cooperates in the efficient discharge of the trial process. This does not include guilty pleas or assistance given to law enforcement officers for which discounts can already be given under other sections of the act. In giving a sentence discount the bill contemplates that the sentence still would need to be proportionate to the offence. The court would be required to state the reasons for the discounted sentence and what it would otherwise have been.

There are a number of concerns about this approach. First, because the ACT’s penalties are not necessarily comparable with New South Wales, there is no guarantee that our courts will be able to take guidance from the New South Wales court, which is what we have been advised will be the case. So there would be considerable trial and error in this scheme until precedents are established. Second, there is a perception, both in the public arena and in the legal profession, that the courts are already lenient in their sentencing, and this is feedback I get regularly from the police, from prosecutors and from members of the public in particular.

ACT courts are already giving sentence discounts and there is a long history of public reaction to the sentencing culture in the ACT. This proposal is purely and simply an attempt to speed up the process in the court, and it does not necessarily deliver justice for the people of the ACT. That is the main reason why we will not be supporting it.

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