Mandatory sentencing compromises democracy

AUSTRALIA'S new human rights commissioner has attacked the separation of powers in Queensland as he publicly condemned mandatory sentencing.

New Australian human rights commissioner Tim Wilson told Queensland's legal fraternity that mandatory sentencing compromised "the well-thought-out structures of our democracy to address popular concerns".

Queensland's LNP government has increased mandatory sentencing for murder and set mandatory penalties for repeat child sex offenders and criminal gangs.

Mr Wilson was speaking at an event on Friday in Brisbane for the release of the Queensland Law Society's policy position on mandatory sentencing.

The society says the practice is "an undue fetter on judicial discretion" and labelled the laws "unfair and unworkable".

Mr Wilson said on Friday he had no issues with governments being firm on upholding the law.

But he believed recent mandatory sentencing in Queensland and NSW reflected governments bowing to pressure from "some citizens" to address "real and perceived problems".

"Mandatory sentencing is another incremental stake stabbed in the heart of the foundations of our liberal democracy," he said.

"I understand that governments take this approach to mandatory sentencing because they want to be seen ... as being tough on crime.

"I also understand that the relationship between society and the justice system is symbiotic - justice must be done, and it must be seen to be done.

"But mandatory sentencing laws do not provide a solution.

"Instead they stifle the role of the courts to review and interpret the laws.

"Governments instead create arbitrary sentencing laws that are often not proportionate to the crime and do not allow sentencing judges to consider mitigating factors."

Mr Wilson said the separation of powers was designed to limit parliament's power to "impose its will on the public".

"It is designed to protect the individual from the tyranny of the majority," he said.

QLS president Ian Brown, in releasing the policy position, said mandatory sentencing was financially costly, lacked transparency and did not work as a deterrent.

He said more matters would go to trial resulting in delays and expense in the court system, as well as increased prison fees.

"It is understandable that we, as individuals and members of a civilised society, are outraged by certain crimes," he said.

"Justice however must be done, equally, to all persons, according to law and without fear or affection."

Facts

  • It costs about $190 a day to keep someone in jail - almost $70,000 a year.
  •  Cost of jailing one convicted people smuggler for the mandatory minimum three years is more than $170,000 which does not include the cost of a trial.

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