Give victims the right to appeal soft sentences

This article originally appeared in the Herald-Sun on 30 October 2018.

Earlier this year, two women were convicted of assaulting a paramedic but avoided prison after a judge found there were special circumstances justifying a more lenient punishment. The Victorian public were outraged.

Although the Government tightened the laws around offences against emergency services workers, the public’s confidence in the courts had already been shaken. This is a problem because Australians have consistently reported low confidence in the courts, especially their protection of victims’ interests.

Any one of us could be a victim of crime, and if that happens, we need to know that the standards applied by the courts will be in line with our community values. We need to trust that the courts have the same idea of justice that we have.

To hold judges to this expectation, when a sentence for a serious crime is unjustly lenient, victims should be able to direct the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to seek leave to appeal the sentence.

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IPA Research Recommends New Way To Boost Confidence In The Courts

This is the media release for my October 2018 report, Victim appeal: how to address manifestly inadequate sentences.

“Australians deserve to have courts they can trust to always apply common sense standards of justice,” said Andrew Bushnell, Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.

“Giving victims the right to direct an appeal against manifestly inadequate sentences will help to restore the public’s confidence in the courts,” said Mr Bushnell.

New research from the IPA’s Criminal Justice Project finds that Australians have consistently reported low confidence in the performance of the courts, and there is reason to believe that this is, in part, based on rare but high profile cases in which judges hand down sentences that depart from normal community standards.

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Offenders in community service should be able to do paid work as part of their sentences

This is the media release for my May 2018 research report, Making community corrections work.

“Community corrections is growing rapidly, and we need to act now to make it more effective. One way to do this is to get community-based offenders into more meaningful work by permitting businesses to offer community service opportunities,” said Andrew Bushnell, Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.

The latest report from the IPA’s Criminal Justice Project, Making Community Corrections Work, released today, provides a national overview of community corrections and outlines how community service, as the chief component of community corrections, can be made more effective through the involvement of commercial businesses.

“With community service becoming a greater part of our criminal justice system, a reconsideration of how we punish criminals in the community is overdue,” said Mr Bushnell.

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Indigenous Incarceration: Reform Policy Should Not Compromise Equality Before The Law

This piece originally appeared in The Australian on 6 April 2018. It is about the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Pathways to Justice report, which can be found here. It draws on my research on Indigenous incarceration, which can be found here.

The exceptionally high rate of incarceration among indigenous Australians requires a policy response that does not compromise equality before the law or community safety.

Over the past decade, the national prison population rose by 43 per cent, with more than a third of this growth the result of more indigenous Australians being incarcerated. Indigenous Australians are incarcerated at 12.5 times the rate of the non-indigenous. This statistic should be read against a complex background of higher offending rates, including higher rates of violent offending, and under performance on all metrics of socio-economic wellbeing.

This issue is back on the national agenda following the release last week of the Australian Law Reform Commission’ report on indigenous incarceration, Pathways to Justice. This is a welcome contribution to the debate around criminal justice reform in Australia.

Unfortunately, however, the report makes some recommendations that would undermine the bedrock principle of equality before the law. There are policy options available to governments that do not infringe on this principle, some of which are also recommended in the report, and these should be preferred.

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Public safety must always be the priority

This piece originally appeared in the Herald-Sun on 2 January 2018. It is behind a paywall here and on the IPA site here.

Under pressure, Victoria Police have now finally admitted that gangs of young people from African backgrounds are causing fear and havoc in Melbourne’s streets.

But despite that, Victoria’s police chief seems to think arresting people is somehow unfair. Acting Chief Commissioner Shane Patton appears to spend more time fretting about the “human rights” of juvenile rioters than he does about the interests of communities being terrorised and individuals being assaulted, robbed and worse.

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How to stop a crime wave

This piece originally appeared in the IPA Review and can also be found here.

In politics, the range of ideas that the public will accept is known as the Overton Window. Ideas from outside the window can shift the public discourse, changing what people think of as normal.

The same is true for behaviour. People’s conduct is governed by their idea of what is socially acceptable. The more that antisocial behaviour is tolerated, the more it will be normalised, and the more of it society will have. And that is how a crime wave forms.

As those of us living in Melbourne know all too well, this is not only an academic concern. Over the last two years, Victoria has seen robbery rates rise 20 per cent, theft rise 9 per cent, and assault rise 8 per cent. Crime has a habit of begetting more crime, and the failure to crack down on serious offending has seen Melbourne fall into a crime wave.

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