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Chief Justice rejects mandatory sentences

Briefs

Cite as: March 2014 88 (03) LIJ, p.15

Mandatory sentencing and recent events in Nauru dominated remarks made by Chief Justice Marilyn Warren at the opening of the legal year community event on 3 February.

Single punch attacks, the Chief Justice said, had prompted a call for mandatory sentences.

“Mandatory sentences in any form undermine the capacity of judges to decide their cases efficiently, consistently and fairly,” Chief Justice Warren said. “Essential to the rule of law is that judges decide cases efficiently, consistently and fairly in each case. Judicial discretion needs to be moulded to suit the individual case. As Victoria’s most senior judge and the longest serving in the Supreme Court, in my experience the rule of law is best served by leaving judges to do their job.”

The increasing frequency of single-punch attacks was the subject of an address by two secondary school graduates – Eric Papaluca from Maribyrnong Secondary College and Omar El Hawli from Bayside Secondary College – at the event at Waldron Hall in the County Court. They urged use of the term “coward’s punch” instead of “king hit”.

The Chief Justice also remarked that it was important the situation in Nauru, which in an extraordinary turn of events saw resident Magistrate Peter Law sacked and Nauruan Chief Justice Geoff Eames QC barred entry from the island nation in January (see page 20), not be forgotten over time.

“It is important that we do not let events in Nauru slip by – initial protest and criticism that subsides into acquiescence.

“We should maintain our support of Chief Justice Eames and urge the Australian government to do all in its power to support his Honor and the rule of law in this historical neighbour. I doubt there would be a chief justice, judge or magistrate in Australia who would not empathise with Chief Justice Eames and support his vigilance in protecting the rule of law in his jurisdiction.”

Other countries where judges had found themselves “pushed aside” when courts had reminded governments they were bound by the rule of law included Pakistan, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea.

Chief Justice Warren’s remarks followed comments on Nauru by Justice Lex Lasry, president of the International Commission of Jurists Victoria, which hosts the community observance with the support of the LIV and others. “In Nauru we are seeing the rule of law under attack,” Justice Lasry said. “The government in that country has done pretty much everything it can to undermine the rule of law and we [the ICJ] are following developments there very closely . . . and will have as much influence as we can.”

ABC Radio 774 presenter Red Symons also spoke at the community opening and Richard Niall SC was awarded the inaugural John Gibson Award for human rights advocacy, named after the late barrister and refugee advocate.

Across town, LIV president Geoff Bowyer read a lesson at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral. The ecumenical service was also attended by Governor of Victoria Alex Chernov.

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