First published April 14
I refer to the article that appeared in The Mercury on the 4th April 2018 written by Elise Archer.
That article was based on the false premise that the Tasmanian Judges and Magistrates were soft on crime and the Government had to bring in minimum sentences.
There is no evidence that the Tasmanian judiciary is soft on crime, judges and magistrates are experienced professional lawyers who hold highly desirable jobs and you don’t get to be a judge or a magistrate by being a fool or being soft on crime.
It is disgraceful for the Attorney General, the First Law Officer of the Crown, to attack the Tasmanian judiciary.
The fact is that the crime rate has mainly declined over the last 10 years and Tasmania is a safe place to live.
The Australian law on bail has been established for more than a century and it provides that if a person accused of a crime is likely to commit further crimes while on bail, that person will not be granted bail.
There is no need to pass an Act to restate what already is the law.
Anybody with a recent record of a number of serious crimes would not get bail.
I practiced in the Courts for many decades and I know how they operate and so should Elise Archer who is also an experienced lawyer.
The best way to help the victims of domestic violence is to make sure there are plenty of shelters for those victims.
Anybody who has studied family violence notes that it is cyclical.
Children who are victims of family violence or witness family violence tend to become abusers in their personal relationships.
A way to break this vicious cycle is to encourage the adult victims of family violence to leave violent relationships and the most effective way to do that is to provide plenty of shelters where the victims can escape to; whilst arrangements are made for alternative accommodation and financial support.
There are adequate laws to deal with violent people when they get before the Courts which have power to make restraint orders against threats, intimidation, stalking etc.
The problem is to get people to report the offences and leave the relationship.
Creating new family violence offences won’t make any difference.
Anybody who commits a number of family violence offences will go to jail because they are repeat offender.
The same applies to people who repeatedly break restraint orders; they finish up in jail if they keep on offending.
The existing laws deter most people that are the subject of restraint orders and obsessive persons are not deferrable but they finish up in jail.
Passing some new family violence law and claiming you solved the problem rather than spend the money needed to open more shelters and find other support for people so they can leave abusive relationships is the expensive way but it is the only way that will be effective.
Anyone who commits a serious sexual offence against a child goes to jail that’s what happens now.
To imply that the judges and magistrates are not doing that is misleading and to attack the judges and magistrates for being soft on crime is a disgraceful action for a person who is Attorney General.
Law and order campaigns are an American idea used by right wing politicians to scare people and then promise they will protect them by locking everybody up in jail.
It may or may not get votes; certainly America has the largest per capita prison population in the free world, most of which are African-Americans.
It has got so large some of the jails have been turned into factories and the Americans have managed to re-create slavery by imprisoning African-Americans for trivial offences for long periods of time and then making them work in factories inside of the jails.
One would hope we are not going to go down the same track in Tasmania.
No one who has lived in Tasmania for any length of time can believe that crime rates respond to draconian penalties.
One only has to visit Port Arthur to discover that in England you could be hung for stealing a loaf of bread.
If the savage criminal penalties of 18th Century England worked Tasmania probably would have become a French colony and not a British one.
What happened in England in the 18th Century was that the aristocracy found they could make more money grazing sheep than getting rents from peasants so they removed all the medieval privileges of the peasantry which forced them off the land because (they couldn’t get a living) and into the cities where desperate starving people stole. The clever ones broke into the houses of the wealthy and stole things worth stealing and that led to the law and order campaign and vicious criminal penalties. And there were so many prisoners they had to put them in old decaying ex war ships and send them off to America, the West Indies, New South Wales and Tasmania.
None of these draconian penalties prevented desperate people stealing bread to survive.
The rates of crime vary from society to society for complex reasons.
For many decades America has had a crime rate which is 3 or 4 times higher than Australian crime rates and Australian crime rates have always been higher than British crime rates and Japan has always had the world’s lowest crime rates. None of those rates in any way respond to severe penalties.
The existence of penalties of crime obviously deter people but whether they are draconian or moderate or soft doesn’t seem to have much effect on the rate of offending.
Scandinavian countries tend to have systems which rehabilitate prisoners and try to find them somewhere to live and a job when they leave prison and they have lower crime rates than Australia; perhaps we should look to Scandinavia for ways of dealing with crime which work and therefore save money.
Everybody should remember it costs about $300 a day to keep a person in a medium or high security prison.
It is rational to find ways to reduce the cost and look at systems which prevent people reoffending rather than run a law and order in an attempt to scare people and get votes.
*John Green is a retired lawyer