NSW’s top judge has criticised the O’Farrell government for introducing mandatory minimum jail terms for alcohol and drug-fuelled violence, rejecting claims judges are ‘‘soft on crime’’.
NSW Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Bathurst told the NSW Law Society on Monday night it was a mistake to regard an excessively punitive approach as the only way courts could recognise the interests of victims of violent crime.
His comments follow tough new measures introduced by the NSW government to curb alcohol-fuelled violence.
The measures follow public outrage over the one-punch deaths of 18-year-olds Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie at Sydney’s Kings Cross and other recent drunken assaults.
The introduction of an eight-year minimum mandatory sentence for fatal one-punch assaults if alcohol or drugs are involved, and other proposed mandatory minimums for serious assaults, has been widely criticised by the legal profession.
Premier Barry O’Farrell has said the new sentencing laws may not have been needed if judges had been delivering appropriate sentences for drunken and drug-induced violence under existing laws.
But Chief Justice Bathurst said there was a tendency to target the judiciary as part of the well-worn ‘‘law and order debate’’ that re-ignited whenever a particularly shocking or high-profile crime took place.
But an informed debate was needed, he said.
‘‘Research suggests that a significant proportion of the community is misinformed about crime and sentencing and change their views of sentencing when presented with accurate information,’’ Fairfax Media reported him saying.
Chief Justice Bathurst said one question was whether juries would find offenders guilty if they knew a particular penalty would be applied regardless of the circumstances, and whether mandatory sentences would discourage early guilty pleas.
He said judges could produce summaries of their judgments to explain their reasoning and courts could hold seminars on the process of judicial decision-making in criminal matters.