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Baseline concern

Briefs

Cite as: April 2015 89 (4) LIJ, p.17

Judges of the County Court have expressed concern about baseline sentencing in the Court's annual report for 2013-14.

Baseline sentencing, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations were identified by judges as “key sources of concern” for the County Court.

Chief Judge Michael Rozenes said baseline sentencing would complicate sentencing, cause delays in the judicial process and heighten prospects of appeal.

“The impact of the introduction of the Sentencing Amendment (Baseline Sentences) Act 2014 will potentially undo many of the performance improvements that we have worked so hard to achieve in recent years. The new sentencing regime will likely add substantial complexity to the sentencing process, increasing the length of matters and the incidence of appeals. It will also change the case mix, adding to delay.”

Baseline sentencing, which sets median and maximum prison terms for certain serious offences and effectively lengthens average prison terms, was introduced in November last year by the Napthine government. It is opposed by the LIV.

“The LIV opposes baseline sentencing as another form of mandatory sentencing which removes the discretion of judges to determine a sentence that is appropriate to the individual circumstances of the crime and the offender,” LIV president Katie Miller said.

“The LIV is consulting with our members to gather evidence about how baseline sentencing is affecting the administration of justice and will use that evidence to lobby the Attorney-General for improvements to the law.”

Also in the annual report, Judge Mark Taft, the judge in charge of the criminal jurisdiction, said baseline sentencing changes had “amplified” existing concerns about the increasing number, complexity and length of trials – now 12 days on average, with short trials of one to five days or less down and long trials of 20 days or more up.

“This [baseline] constraint will add substantial complexity to the sentencing process, will be productive of delay, additional cost and heightened prospects of appeal. The likely result will further increase pressure on the Court’s resources.

“In addition, the impact of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations and the Commonwealth Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse are still to be felt. These policy developments, together with ongoing resourcing issues, will remain key sources of concern over the coming year.”

In February, about 80 lawyers attended a training workshop on baseline sentencing hosted by Victoria Legal Aid. It was held in conjunction with the Office of Public Prosecutions, the Sentencing Advisory Council, the Judicial College of Victoria and the Victorian Bar.

Participants worked through case scenarios to develop skills and an expert panel responded to questions.

Lawyers at the workshop showed concern about the new regime. There are unanswered questions around how defence and prosecution submissions will be made under baseline sentencing.

Practitioners were directed towards Supreme Court Practice Note 11, which shows guidance on submissions on baseline sentencing.

VLA foreshadowed another workshop due to demand.

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