Two Strikes & You’re In
THE State Government has pushed through controversial mandatory sentencing laws for repeat child sex offenders despite warnings the new laws could risk child murders.
The government also was warned there would likely be long delays in court processes if people had little incentive to plead guilty, with a consequential impact on child victims and their families.
Explanatory notes issued with the Criminal Law (Two Strike Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill 2012 – which was rushed through parliament on Tuesday night – acknowledge opposition to the law change.
“Disturbingly, two stakeholders, the Queensland Police Service and the Bar Association of Queensland, warned of the possibility an offender might kill a child if the penalty is the same as for murder,” the notes read.
But it concluded “there is no alternate way to achieve the policy objectives.”
The pace the mandatory sentencing laws were pushed through State Parliament has angered Queensland’s legal fraternity, many of whom expressed opposition in submissions to the parliamentary committee appointed to advise on the bill.
The two-strike policy will apply when an offender previously convicted of a sexual crime punishable by life in jail, such as rape, has been released on parole and then commits a like offence again.
Staunch mandatory sentence opponent Cameron Browne, from Potts Lawyers, said the overwhelming LNP win did not justify the “straight jacketing of someone hearing all the facts”.
He said this new bill, which had now passed into legislation, was a “fundamental shift in sentencing principals that has been pushed through at a terribly rapid pace”.
“The bill proposed means that significant mental impairment that falls short of a mental health defence is not something a judge could take into account in reducing the minimum penalty,” he said.
“You could have a person guilty of a second offence who has a young mental age, that doesn’t satisfy the defence tests, facing the same minimum term as anybody else.
“Campaign promises do not translate into ignoring research and the need for a proper consideration of changes to the law.”
Attorney-General and Justice Minister Jarrod Bleijie said under the new legislation, repeat child sex offenders would be jailed for life and unable to apply for parole for at least 20 years.
A last-minute amendment to the bill will now allow a “reserve discretionary power in the courts to impose a sentence which is less than life imprisonment where, in exceptional circumstances, it is in the interests of justice”.
“This bill is a clear illustration of the government’s responsiveness to community outrage at the level of sentences imposed on child sex offenders,” Mr Bleijie said.
“Some offences are so heinous that strong laws are needed to ensure adequate punishments are being handed down by the courts.
“The over-riding consideration in drafting this legislation is the protection of our children, the most vulnerable members of our community.”
Mr Browne said the legal fraternity would continue to raise the issue with these new laws when injustices arose in the hope it could be changed in the future.
He said lawyers were also concerned the two-strike policy required courts to ignore sentencing principles enshrined in legislation regarding offenders’ previous history.
The provisions in the bill will apply upon assent from the Governor.