The state shouldn't take away the discretion of judicial officers, they say
Following the Andrews government’s push to jail anyone who attacks and injures emergency service personnel, legal groups in Victoria are pushing back on mandatory sentencing.
The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) said that it strongly condemns any assault on emergency workers, prison officers, and health workers – and agrees that they need protection – but judicial officers must retain discretion when it comes to sentencing.
“Everyone deserves the right to be safe in their work environment; however, Victoria can’t take a ‘one size fits all’ approach around attacks on emergency workers. Every serious assault case will be different. There are often serious mental health issues involved in these vicious assaults on emergency workers. These mental health issues must be taken into account in each case,” said Belinda Wilson, LIV president.
The state is proposing to categorise assaults on emergency workers as category one offences, the same as murder and rape.
The LIV said that the state is investing more than $700m to tackle mental health issues. The legal body said that the government must recognise that mental health issues are often at the centre of serious attacks on emergency workers and that discretion must be ensured when dealing with these people in the courts.
The institute said that these people need urgent help and it hopes the government’s approach and commitment to mental health programs are not impacted by the push to impose mandatory sentences on people who attack emergency service personnel.
“Victoria’s magistrates and judges must have discretion when it comes to sentencing and have the flexibility to deal with every case on an individual basis,” Wilson said.
The sentiment was echoed by the Victorian Bar.
“All Victorians are appalled by attacks on emergency services workers, who have the right to go about their work in a safe environment,” said Dr Matt Collins QC, Victorian Bar president.
“However, populist, ‘tough on crime’ responses by our politicians are an unprincipled race to the bottom. Mandatory sentencing and reducing judicial discretion deprive our judges and magistrates of the ability to dispense justice in the circumstances of the particular case, bringing their experience and wisdom to the complicated task of balancing punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation and fairness,” he said. “The Victorian Bar calls on all sides of politics to respect the independence of the state’s hard working judicial officers, who are best placed to resolve the many competing and subtle factors at play in any given case.”