THE state government’s push to provide greater certainty in sentencing will be welcomed following the release of a new report this week.
A Sentencing Advisory Council report includes recommendations for baseline sentences for serious crimes and, most notably, increases in penalties for sexual offences against children.
These recommendations follow a review and considerable community debate about appropriate sentencing.
As the report points out, penalties for crimes cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach and that serious consideration about how the baseline sentences are determined is required.
Should the government take on board all the report’s recommendations, it should allay the concerns of some in the community who have voiced fears that baseline sentencing could be inflexible or, worse, unjust. To this end, the report recommends that baseline sentence levels only apply where a court imposes a prison sentence and fixes a non-parole period; that baseline sentences should be the starting point for sentencing and then be adjusted for offence factors, offender factors and discounts for guilty pleas or assistance to authorities; and that these sentences not apply to cases heard summarily, to juvenile offenders or to young adult offenders sentenced to youth justice centres.
That’s enough checks and balances to ensure flexibility to continue to assess penalties where extenuating circumstances need to be considered.
The government has committed to analysing the report with a view to bringing in legislation next year.
For victims of serious crimes, this step will be applauded.
In 2010, The Courier undertook a wide-ranging survey into community views on crime, community safety and sentencing.
A large majority of respondents suggested penalties were too soft and that many felt repeat offenders were given too many chances.
The implementation of baseline sentences may not be the solution to everyone’s concerns on this point but it will provide a framework and an opportunity for the legal system to better explain how penalties are determined. It will not, and should not, take away from the commitment to rehabilitation of those who face court.
To this point, setting the actual baseline sentence for every serious crime will be challenging. How the government determines these matters will be intriguing.