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LIV President's Blog
July 29, 2011

Have a Say on Sentencing

I will be filling out the state government's sentencing survey, despite believing the survey will have limited value and should not be used to justify the government’s "get tough on crime" legislation. I agree with comments by Criminal Bar Association chair Dr Greg Lyon SC that it is impossible to justly sentence a person based on the little information in the survey. However, I think it is better to be part of the debate rather than stay silent. So I encourage all lawyers to fill out the survey and to consider whether you wish to identify yourself as a legal professional … or NOT.

I note the survey was published in the Herald Sun and not the Age, and this causes concern about the one-sided demographics of the respondents.

We have been, and will continue to be, critical of government proposals to introduce legislation which will restrict the ability of the independent judiciary, who have heard all the facts of each case, to reach that difficult sentencing decision. We have also come out against the proposal, currently being considered by the Sentencing Advisory Council, to sentence youths to mandatory two-year terms for gross violence offences.

Coincidentally, this morning I addressed the LIV Criminal Law Conference on what "getting tough on crime" would mean. I told the audience mandatory terms for youth is a recipe for higher, not lower, crime rates in the future as our youth centres and prisons act as "schools for crime".

Evidence has shown us that locking young people up, even for a relatively short time, has a criminogenic effect. Ultimately, all it does is extinguish hope and create a better criminal.

We support judges and magistrates having a full suite of sentencing options at their disposal – including suspended sentences, home detention, and grass roots programs like the Neighbourhood Justice Centre, the Dandenong Drugs Court and the Koori Court. These alternatives to prison have all proven successful and address the causes of crime.

I was pleased to hear Nicholas Cowdery QC’s address to the conference. He is strongly opposed to mandatory sentencing. Sometimes it seems to me that it is only lawyers who stand up for the legal rights of even the worst criminals. It is not a popular cause. But it is a fundamental part of our obligations to our clients and the profession.

My address to the Criminal Law conference.

July 22, 2011

LIV participates in forum to discuss Constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians

We are pleased to be included in the Law Council of Australia (Law Council) Discussion Forum, held in Canberra today to discuss the importance of symbolic and substantive change to our nation’s Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

The Discussion Forum – "Constitutional Change: Recognition or Substantive Rights?" is the first of its kind hosted by the Law Council and brings together experts from within Australia and overseas.

The LIV is represented at the forum by past president Steven Stevens and CEO Michael Brett Young. Other representatives at the invitation only event include speakers from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, the legal profession, the judiciary, academics and Government. It is hoped that the forum will inform a position paper to contribute to the important work of the expert panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians.
The LIV strongly supports constitutional reform to recognise Indigenous Peoples. We have seen our role to date as one of informing consideration by Indigenous Peoples and the general community of the legal options and issues, rather than putting forward a firm view on the details of any reform.
Before the last Federal election, all major parties committed to holding a referendum on this issue. In November last year, the Federal Government established an Expert Panel, co-chaired by Professor Patrick Dodson and Mr Mark Leibler AC, which is currently consulting the community. There were regional meetings in Victoria in June and a Melbourne meeting is planned in September. The panel is due to report to Government by December.
The LIV in a 2009 submission said that a constitutional amendment recognising the rights of Indigenous peoples is necessary and called on the government to fulfil its pledge to recognise them. We also, in our submission to the Charter of Human Rights review, called on the Charter to include a "right of self-determination for peoples, including the right to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."
We are continuing consultations with Indigenous peoples through the development of our Reconciliation Action Plan, and we expect to attend the Melbourne consultation about Constitutional recognition on 19 September.
This is a fundamental issue of human rights for Indigenous Australians and we look forward to widespread support for the proposals that are developed before they are put to referendum.
Here is more information on indigenous issues and the LIV.
Further information on the public consultation process is available on the You Me Unity website.

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