One of Victoria’s chief judges has slammed the proposal to introduce mandatory sentencing for criminals in Victoria, saying it would remove the ability to show “mercy”.
Chief Judge of the County Court Peter Kidd SC described mandatory sentencing as “blind” and predicted that judges may walk on moral grounds if the laws are introduced.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews announced last month that, in cases of violent crime that carry minimum jail sentences, defendants will no longer be able to plead they were drunk or affected by drugs to avoid jail time or received a reduced sentence.
Andrews suggested changes are due to be discussed in parliament later this month, which, if passed into law, would also see the removal of “psychosocial immaturity” as a valid excuse for 18-21-year-olds as well as forcing the courts to place “less weight” on a defendant’s life circumstances when passing sentence.
However, Kidd said the idea of mandatory sentencing is the “very opposite” of the “individualised justice” exercised in Victoria’s courts currently, saying it would hamper a judge’s ability to deliver a “just and appropriate” sentence in line with the individual aspects of a case.
Speaking to 3AW host Neil Mitchell, he said: “The approach to individualised justice is designed to ensure there is a just and appropriate sentence in every case. When a judge comes to sentence he or she must individually tailor the sentence to the circumstances of the offender, the victim and the offence.
“Mandatory sentencing is the very opposite, it says that one size fits all. The reality is that one size does not fit all. Part of it cannot work. It says in certain cases where mercy is justified, mercy cannot be shown.”
Kidd went on to say that judges take an oath to apply the law on behalf of the community, and warned that some judges would have “great difficulty” imposing mandatory sentences, particularly in cases where a term of imprisonment is not warranted.
He added: “Judges have to apply the law that parliament makes on behalf of the community. If parliament introduces mandatory sentencing, judges will simply have to impose it.
“I think some judges will experience great difficulty in having to impose mandatory sentences, especially if a term of imprisonment is not warranted. In circumstances where I’m confronted with a sentence which I think’s an unjust sentence then I will find it very difficult.”
Andrews announced the proposed law changes in May after the government came under fire when two women escaped jail time, despite being found guilty of assaulting paramedics, a crime which was recently classified as Category 1 offence, because of “special reasons”.
Cabinet made the decision to grade attacks on first responders and prison staff that resulted in injury classified as a category-one offence last month, which is the same level as murder and rape and requires the court to impose a custodial sentence. The previous Coalition government introduced mandatory jail time for attacks on emergency service workers in 2014.
Leader of the opposition in Victoria, Matthew Guy, is also in favour of mandatory sentencing and previously said that would be the first thing he did if elected to government in November.