Barristers launch counter-attack in ‘soft’ sentences row

DPP slammed over appeal test cases
Karen Kissane, Law and Justice Editor   BARRISTERS have launched an attack on the director of public prosecutions, Jeremy Rapke, QC, over recent comments in which he criticised judges for giving inadequate sentences.
They accuse him of using the media to speak out in a way that undermines the independence of judges.
“Such comments, reported in selected print media, have the undesirable effect of compromising judicial independence by placing public pressure on judges to impose harsher penalties,” the Criminal Bar Association said in a statement.
“These types of public comments made in the popular media by the senior prosecutor of this state, in our view, carry an appreciable risk of eroding public confidence in the administration of justice . . .
“We believe that it is not (his) role to either announce or mount campaigns in the public media.”
In a statement soon to be released on its website, the association criticised Mr Rapke’s plan to run “test cases” in appeal courts in an effort to address perceived low sentencing by Victorian judges.
“The most recent announcement by Mr Rapke, in combination with a previous announcement, which criticised members of the judiciary over the making of insensitive remarks, together constitute an unwelcome trend to publicly attack Victorian judges in the media,” the association’s statement says.
Mr Rapke was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Mr Rapke last week told the Herald Sun that he would challenge the Court of Appeal to set tougher sentences for drug traffickers, murderers and frauds. He said he planned a series of “test case” appeals where he believed sentences had not met community expectations.
This followed comments he made in January to media outlets accusing some judges of being insensitive to sexual assault victims. Mr Rapke called for more judicial education for judges so that victims of crime were treated with “dignity, sensitivity and compassion”.
Criminal Bar Association chairman John Champion, SC, yesterday told The Age, “This is not a practice that we have seen too much of in the past in Victoria.”
Mr Champion said there were appropriate forums in the justice system where sentencing issues could be debated without getting “over-emotional”.
He defended judges’ sentencing practices. “I hear the comment all the time that judges are out of touch. I think it is a myth. Judges are very well educated and deal with hundreds of these cases day after day. Judges hear both sides of the story, they are independent and they are not out of touch with community standards. No one wants to get it right more than they do.”
A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court said it would be inappropriate for Chief Justice Marilyn Warren to comment.

First published in The Age.