Police minister says criminals see suspended sentence 'as no punishment at all'

Left: Police Minister Rene Hidding. Right: A NW Tasmania man was recently fined $4782 for exceeding the daily catch limit of flatheads. Picture: Facebook

Left: Police Minister Rene Hidding. Right: A NW Tasmania man was recently fined $4782 for exceeding the daily catch limit of flatheads. Picture: Facebook

Changes are needed to restore public confidence in the state’s justice system, according to Police Minister Rene Hidding.

“It’s very clear that suspended sentences are a soft and ineffective response to crime,” said Mr Hidding.  

He was commenting on a recent court decision to give a suspended sentence and a $450 fine to a man found guilty of negligently killing a woman and child.

In the same week, a man was fined $4782 for exceeding the daily fishing catch limit.

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“The problem is, a suspended jail sentence is effectively seen by the perpetrators as no punishment at all,” he said.

“That’s why we promised to implement a greater range of alternatives that will ensure sentences reflect the gravity of the crime committed,” said Mr Hidding.

The Police Association of Tasmania was also concerned about the apparent differences in penalty for the two crimes.

“The members of the Police Association of Tasmania are as confused about current sentencing decisions as the rest of the public,” said president Pat Allen.

“The Association will be speaking to the government about this.”

However Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesman Greg Barns said he had never known the police association to take a sophisticated, intellectually robust view on sentencing.

“I wouldn't go them for a view,” he said.

Mr Barns said sentencing was not a popularity contest or a contest where the judiciary should be taking opinion polls of what the public thinks.

“It's not fair,” he said. “In fact it's a futile exercise to compare a fishing offence with a driving offence.

“The fishing legislation has a very heavy penalty regime.

“The sentencing regime provided by parliament, which courts have to enforce, in both cases is very different,” he said.

“You can’t make the point that a sentencing regime is too low or too high by looking at one particular case.

“You can only do that when you have solid debate, have all the data, and the sentences across a number of years.

“Sentencing must never be done on the basis of a community whim - what the community thinks.

“A public that is well informed has a different approach,” he said, citing the 2011 Tasmanian research into public perceptions of sentencing.

The research, by law academics Kate Warner, Julia Davis and others found that a substantial majority of people doing jury duty believed judges were in touch with public opinion.

It also found that a majority of jurors thought judges had been too severe in sentencing in certain cases.

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