Tougher sentencing laws not a good idea

Tougher sentencing laws, as proposed in Victoria by Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, are not a good idea according to seasoned criminal lawyers.

Guy is proposing a “two strikes” rule for repeat offenders, which would impose minimum mandatory sentences and take discretion away from sentencing judges.

Such policies have recurrent circulation in politics but struggle to have any demonstrable effect, critics say. Doogue O’Brien George, a criminal law firm in Melbourne, recently tweeted that there is “no evidence” that these types of sentencing rules reduce crime rates.

Guy hopes to depose the Labor government in Victoria and crime is apparently safe ground with voters.

Bill Doogue, of Doogue O’Brien George, has previously written that such policies result in “more trials and longer ones”, principally because the incentive to plead guilty is removed.

“State finances will be impacted. We will pay tens of millions over the long haul because of these silly laws”, writes Mr Doogue.

This sentiment is shared by Michael Gatenby of Gatenby Criminal Lawyers in Queensland. Mr Gatenby writes that “all matters [should] turn on the merit of the facts and the circumstances of the offender”, rather than a generalisation at the legislative level.

Doogue and Gatenby are not alone in their criticism of mandatory sentencing laws. In 2015, the Law Council of Australia called for their abolition. The Law Council has prepared a reference list of these laws, available here.