Brumby calls for tough sentences

COURTS should give tougher sentences to offenders convicted of rape, premeditated assault or other serious personal violence, Premier John Brumby said yesterday.
He said that aggravated assaults were on the rise worldwide, and that he had always had a strong view on the need for tough sentences for rape.
“The courts should lean on the side of being more punitive and not less punitive and that means stronger sentences,” he said in a radio interview.
He said the Government would also look at controversial suggestions for criminal trials without juries, night courts and the gagging of barristers in trials. The proposals were made on Monday by the director of public prosecutions, Jeremy Rapke, QC, as possible solutions to long delays in the courts.
“We’ll have a look at all of the suggestions Jeremy Rapke has made because we want this system to work better, and we don’t want delays in the justice system,” Mr Brumby said.
Attorney-General Rob Hulls yesterday confirmed that he also wanted the proposals examined.
But criminal barrister Greg Barns attacked the ideas. “Who is Rapke kidding? Things have never been so good for prosecutors. The criminal law system is weighted in favour of prosecutors and police today because of the rightward shift of government policies.
“These include increased sentences for nearly all criminal offences; the use of mandatory jail terms for second offences such as drug and drink-related offences; the toughening of the parole system; and the introduction of dangerous offender laws, which allow individuals to be kept locked away after they have served their sentence.”
Criminal barrister Geoffrey Steward accused Mr Rapke of patronising judges and said his remarks were “populist and partisan”. He denied that verbosity by lawyers was a significant cause of delays and said that sometimes long cross-examinations were necessary.
Mr Steward said justice delays crushed alleged offenders as well as victims, with some pleading guilty, despite having viable defences, just to get their cases resolved.
Barrister Stephen Shirrefs, SC, said the main reason for delays was not what Mr Hulls called “the epic advocacy … of duelling barristers at dawn” but a lack of judges and courts. Mr Shirrefs said it currently took up to 15months for a case to move from committal to trial in the County Court.
The chairman of the Bar Council of Victoria, John Digby, QC, also denied that barristers talked too much and said a statutory limit on addresses would be too inflexible.
But he said the bar was willing to discuss some of Mr Rapke’s other proposals. “The bottom line is that the bar would stand ready to work through potential initiatives with the Attorney (General) and the courts.”
Government to examine top prosecutor’s proposals on night courts and jury trials.
Barristers point to shortage of courts, not their alleged verbosity, as real problem.

First published in The Age.