The state government’s announcement of a ‘shake-up’ of the justice system has received the cautious backing of one Griffith lawyer though with warnings it could simply shift the burden of backlog onto others shoulders.
The reforms, announced on Tuesday, are aimed at stemming the mountain of cases in District Courts across the state and will allow magistrates tougher sentencing options and encourage offenders to make earlier guilty pleas with fixed sentence discounts if they do so before a matter goes to trial.
With the city’s legal community listing District Court matters out to February 2018 veteran Griffith lawyer David Davidge says the proposed changes are encouraging, but not just because of timing constraints. “That backlog is difficult for victims, for the accused and for all of the families of those people," he said on Thursday.
“But I think I also detect a change of philosophy as well, towards greater community engagement, supervision and assistance and from what I can see that aspect will be really positive.”
Mr Davidge was referring to the proposed “scrapping” of suspended sentences, where offenders are convicted of crimes worthy of prison time but released subject to a good behaviour bond, in favour of options allowing more supervision such as intensive corrections orders (ICOs).
Mr Davidge agreed the move will “provide the opportunity to really engage with offenders to address their offending behaviours.” However he disagreed with the rationale behind abolishing suspended sentences, which the reforms say are not a punishment and label “ineffective”.
“I think suspended sentences do have the capacity to denounce an offence, to show the community’s abhorrence by imposing a jail sentence, but being able to accommodate a sentence that doesn’t see this person go immediately to jail,” he said, reminding that jail is always supposed to be a last resort.
Mr Davidge said while the themes behind the proposed reforms were “sensible” the details, including the scrapping of committal hearings, will mean a lot of additional work for prosecutors.
“I think that the big issue out of these reforms is going to be making sure the DPP and Legal Aid and Community Corrections are properly resourced,” he said praising the “outstanding” work being done on the ground already by community corrections staff.