Monday, March 29, 2010

Reported back

On Friday, the Law and Order Committee reported back [PDF] on the government's Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill. As expected, they've rubberstamped the government's changes to the bill's "three strikes" regime, reducing the third strike penalty from mandatory life imprisonment with a 25-year non-parole period to the maximum for that offence (which may range from 7 years to life) without parole, but also reducing the threshold for a "strike" from the imposition of a sentence of five years imprisonment to mere conviction for a specified offence (meaning that more people will be subjected to the regime, for far less severe offending). Like I said, Draco would be proud.

When the bill was initially introduced, the Attorney-General reported to the House [PDF] that it was inconsistent with the BORA ban on disproportionately severe treatment or punishment:

Absent manifest injustice, the sentencing court is obliged to impose a sentence on a qualifying offender that may be significantly more severe than that imposed on a more culpable, but non-qualifying, offender. As a result, the scheme does not ensure a consistently rational connection between the offence and the penalty.
That still applies. This bill will subject offenders to disproportionate sentences which bear no relation to their actual degree of culpability. And that is simply wrong. The third-strike penalty for manslaughter is a perfect example of this: judges will be required to impose a life sentence with a 20-year minimum non-parole period, unless that would be "manifestly unjust", in which case they are required to impose a 10-year non-parole period. At the low-end, manslaughter gets a term of community service. Receiving even ten years for an offence which would ordinarily attract community service would seem to be the very definition of "manifest injustice" - and our courts will be required to commit it. That's the extreme example, in that manslaughter has a floor on its sentence even in cases of manifest injustice, but its the same story for other offences. Offending which would normally attract a sentence of one year will instead receive one of seven, or ten, or fourteen years. People will be punished disproportionately to the scale of their offending, simply to satisfy a bloodthirsty public's desire to fuck them over in revenge.

I can think of no better way to bring the law into disrepute than to abandon justice for vengeance.