The state’s Sentencing Advisory Council believes reductions for early guilty pleas will do little to reduce delays and backlogs of criminal proceedings as those issues are symptomatic of systemic problems.
Despite this, it has supported the initiative through several amendments to the state’s Sentencing Act while maintaining discretion of any reduction to a judge or magistrate.
Former Attorney-General Matthew Groom asked the council to advise the matter last year with a mind it could reduce delays in criminal proceedings associated with late guilty pleas.
Council chairman, Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg, said delays from a guilty plea had a significant effect on the court efficiency and placed unnecessary stress on victims, families and the accused.
But he said the report, to be released on Wednesday, identified two concerns with reform in this area such as the potential for a guilty plea to operate as an incentive when the accused would not have pleaded that way and timing of disclosure of information to the defence counsel.
Professor Freiberg said a sentence reduction scheme was not a solution to delays and backlogs within the court system.
He said the report showed delay was endemic in the pre-trial process in Tasmania and was sustained by a legal culture and funding model which discouraged early resolution.
Professor Freiberg said defence counsel needed to be able to provide timely advice to their clients about the benefit of a guilty plea.
He said a judge or magistrate should have discretion whether or not to set out a sentence reduction and that there be a review of court data systems to ensure the timing of guilty pleas was recorded.
The state’s Director of Public Prosecutions’ 2012-13 annual report acknowledged there may be a perception among defendants there was insufficient incentive to plead guilty, which had led to a drop in guilty pleas.