Mandatory sentencing doesn't work: lawyer

Illawarra Law Society president David Potts

Illawarra Law Society president David Potts

The president of the Illawarra Law Society has described amendments to the State Government’s alcohol fuelled violence laws as an "improvement", but has continued advocating for a move away from mandatory minimum sentencing.

On Wednesday evening, the NSW Upper House passed the amendment, introduced by opposition leader John Robertson, which dramatically reduced the power of the government’s proposed laws.

The amendment sought to follow the Victorian model, and to condense a list of drug and alcohol fuelled violence offences into a single charge, called ‘‘gross violence’’. 

However, the amendment was voted down in the Lower House on Thursday morning, with Premier Barry O’Farrell saying the laws would be sent back to the Senate unchanged.

Illawarra Law Society president David Potts said even though the amendment was better than the original proposal, the law society still had concerns relating to any legislation which sought to introduce mandatory minimum sentencing.

‘‘Mandatory sentencing... doesn’t work, it doesn’t reduce the crime rate,’’ he said.

‘‘It proves to be very expensive because prison populations go up.

‘‘Paradoxically it results in less guilty pleas because people fight [the charge].

‘‘One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to sentencing and the last problem is it has disproportionate effect on the disadvantaged, particularly Aboriginal people.’’

Mr Potts said the Law Society supported increasing police, tighter restrictions on the availability of alcohol, and better night-time transport in entertainment areas as ways to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence.

He said knee-jerk reactions by politicians were unlikely to produce good policy.

‘‘Passing laws quickly after particular public issues arise normally is unwise and taking a longer view tends to be important,’’ Mr Potts said. 

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