Proposal for a new drink-driving court in Tasmania attracts supporters

Key interest groups have thrown their support behind the prospect of trialling a court specifically to deal with alcohol-related driving offences.

The Tasmania Law Reform Institute on Wednesday produced a report into sentencing of repeat drink-drivers, finding that traditional criminal justice methods were ineffective and that a pilot repeat drink-driver court be trialled. 

It is envisaged that this court might loosely take the form of the Court Mandated Drug Diversion Program.

Law Society of Tasmania president Rohan Foon said the current sentencing regime did not work.

“For some people, no matter how many times they go to jail, they will continue to drink-drive,” he said.

“To that end, different sentencing models and programs need to be developed.”

Drug Education Network chief executive Shirleyann Varney said matching offenders to the most effective treatment was likely to have the greatest impact on behavior change.

“In addition to unsafe alcohol use, many driving whilst under the influence offenders have individual characteristics … or mental health challenges such as depression that may contribute to the unsafe alcohol use,” she said.

Anglicare Tasmania Social Action and Research Centre manager, Meg Webb, said it was in a community’s best interests to look for other sentencing options if established criminal justice responses appeared to be not working.

“The existing drug diversion and mental health diversion courts show that when a health issue sits at the heart of repeat offending, there must be an more holistic response,” she said.

“While simple punitive responses might be appealing, we have to acknowledge that criminal behaviour always sits within a set of personal, social and economic circumstances.”

A state government spokesman said the government had no plans to introduce a specific drink-drivers court at this stage.

Labor justice spokeswoman Lara Giddings said the party supported the concept of the pilot program.

“We have too high a rate of recidivism of drink-driving in Tasmania and something needs to happen,” she said.

Greens justice spokeswoman Rosalie Woodruff said a specialised court would ease the load on the legal system. She said the government needed to extend drug treatment orders to include alcohol offences.