Fair sentencing means that the courts have a full range of sentencing options available - from various non-custodial sentences through to imprisonment for the more serious crimes and offenders.
ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOR ALL
Inadequate funding for legal aid from State and Commonwealth budgets has led to cuts in legal assistance in criminal law and family law and a greater reliance on duty lawyer services. This has had serious implications for access to justice, with an increase in people appearing in court without appropriate advice or legal representation.
It is essential that services which were reduced due to the problems in funding are returned (some have been) and that sufficient additional funding is provided to meet a changing socio-economic climate, the impacts of new sentencing policies, and the increase in family violence matters and child protection issues.
Victoria’s Community Legal Centres, including those that provide specialist assistance in areas such as employment law and family law, also require sufficient funding to meet the ever increasing demand for their services.
The provision of appropriate legal advice and representation enables the court system to be more efficient as legal assistance facilitates matters being settled or resolved prior to court, fewer appeals, and court matters are dealt with in shorter time frames.
THE IMPACT OF TOUGHER SENTENCING LAWS
It is important that our sentencing laws provide for judicial discretion to ensure that the Courts can address all the circumstances of the cases that come before them including the gravity of the offence, the circumstances of the offender and victim/s, deterrence, and rehabilitation. This is all outlined in the principles of the Sentencing Act 1991.
The introduction of mandatory sentencing for certain offences and the removal of suspended sentences and home detention by the current government, is leading to an explosion in Victoria’s prison population at a rate outstripping prison capacity.
Reducing sentencing options for the courts and restricting judicial discretion is not in the public interest. Sentencing is often a complex process and in order for the Courts to ensure justice is done a comprehensive range of sentencing options is needed - from fines, bonds, community corrections orders, suspended sentences, home detention, as well as imprisonment, where warranted.
Changes to the parole system, aimed at serious violent offenders, are impacting on all parolees leading to a growing number being incarcerated for “minor” breaches - 47 percent of the increase in male and female prisoners in the last twelve months is due to breaches of parole.
This has led to an artificial demand for more prison beds and a worrying increase in prisoners being held in police custody in circumstances that are not appropriate.
Research shows that one in three prisoners who go to jail will reoffend. There is not only the financial cost of imprisonment to consider as well as the issue of recidivism but also the social costs: homelessness, cycles of poverty, separation of families, chronic unemployment, the damage of institutionalisation, drug abuse, and the exacerbation of mental illness.
The Greens will invest in:
- sufficient funding for legal aid and community legal centres to ensure equal access to justice for all Victorians;
- information about legal rights, responsibilities and processes online and through community legal centres, and outreach services in rural and regional Victoria; and
- specialist services at the first point of contact with the justice system, particularly in relation to family violence and also for drug-related offences.
The Greens will also:
- reinstate suspended sentences and home detention as options for sentencing where appropriate; and
- repeal mandatory sentencing for criminal offences, leaving the courts to decide the most appropriate sentence based on the facts and circumstances of each case.