In 2015 the Government sought advice from the Sentencing Advisory Council with respect to providing sentencing guidance to the Victorian Courts that promotes both consistency and confidence in the criminal justice system.
That advice has now been released by the Sentencing Advisory Council in a report titled ‘Sentencing Guidance in Victoria’. It makes 18 recommendations, 13 of which the State Government has committed to adopting.
The most significant recommendation is the repealing of baseline sentences, which were introduced approximately two years ago by the then Liberal Government. Baseline sentences were introduced for seven particularly serious offences for which parliament had identified as requiring increased severity during sentence. Each baseline sentence that was introduced was set higher than the median (mid-point or middle value) for the relevant offence. They were heavily criticized by criminal lawyers, barristers and other stakeholders for removing judicial discretion, and described by the Supreme Court of Appeal as “incurably flawed”.
Instead, the Sentencing Advisory Council has recommended the introduction of a ‘standard sentencing scheme’ to be used as a guide for sentencing. This is calculated as being 40% of the maximum penalty for the respective offence. If judges find that the sentence departs from the guide in a particular case, then the Court will have to give reasons as to why.
The report also recommended that comprehensive research should be undertaken to gather an informed public opinion regarding sentencing in Victoria to ensure that future reforms are evidence based.
Finally, the Council also recommended that the Victorian County and Supreme Courts publish sentencing remarks in all cases, expect where suppression orders have been made or the judge is of the opinion that publication would be contrary to the interests of justice.
As criminal lawyers in Melbourne we support any legislative amendment which increases judicial discretion, as it is for the Court to assess each case as presented before the Court and sentence accordingly.