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No need for Knight law

Briefs

Cite as: April 2014 88 (04) LIJ, p.15

Creating a law to keep Hoddle Street killer Julian Knight in jail sets a dangerous precedent and undermines the Adult Parole Board (APB), rule of law defenders have warned.

The Victorian government has introduced legislation to ensure Knight is never released from prison.

Knight was 19 when he murdered seven people and seriously injured 19 others in a mass shooting in Clifton Hill that became know as the Hoddle Street massacre.

Partly because of his age he was given a 27-year-minimum sentence that would have made him eligible for parole in May.

Premier Denis Napthine said the new law meant Knight would only leave jail if seriously incapacitated or near death. Dr Napthine said while it was unlikely the APB would have released Knight, the government had decided to act and “send a signal that the Coalition government is determined to keep the community safe”.

LIV president Geoff Bowyer said the government had preempted what would usually be the process of a judicial review by not allowing the APB’s experienced judges, who had the “absolute confidence” of the LIV, to decide. “I think that sends a message to the public that for one reason or another, the government doesn’t have confidence in the parole board process so I think it does undermine the Board,” he said.

Liberty Victoria president Jane Dixon, SC, said the decision had been the APB’s to make.

She criticised the government for overturning the rule of law for “short-term political posturing” in an election year. “If an exception is made by the government for Knight, then this can easily lead to further exceptions in the future when it is politically expedient,” she said.

“That sets a dangerous precedent.”

Sentencing Advisory Council chair Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg said, in his personal view, the rule of law should apply equally to all people and that individualised laws were unfair, unnecessary and “reflect a political response to more broader and more difficult issues”.

“There’s an old saying – hard cases make bad law – I think we’re seeing that here,” Professor Freiberg said.

Mr Bowyer said Victoria’s parole system had been under attack since it had been revealed that Adrian Bayley should have been in custody for breaching his parole when he raped and murdered Jill Meagher in Brunswick in 2012.

Meanwhile, in March, reforms to parole laws, coming from 23 recommendations made by former High Court judge Ian Callinan, were introduced in Parliament. In future, breaches of parole will result in jail – three years for offenders with a life sentence before being considered for parole again. Corrections Minister Edward O’Donohue said the changes made it clear that “parole is a privilege, not a right”.

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