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Commission welcomes repeal of mandatory sentencing laws in NT

Commission – General

October 2001

welcomes repeal of mandatory sentencing laws in NT

The Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Dr William Jonas,
today welcomed the repeal of mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment for
property crimes committed by juveniles and adults ('mandatory sentencing
laws') in the Northern Territory.

"Mandatory sentencing
laws in the Northern Territory have been a focal point across the country
and internationally for the past few years due to their callous and unjust
nature. These laws targeted Indigenous people and have been costly and
ineffective in deterring crime. The Northern Territory government is to
be congratulated for its efforts in repealing these laws." Dr Jonas

The Juvenile Justice
Amendment Act( No2) 2001
repeals mandatory sentencing for juvenile
offenders, while the Sentencing Amendment Act (No 3) 2001 repeals
mandatory sentencing for property offences for adults. However, the Sentencing
Amendment Act
creates a presumption of imprisonment for a series of
offences known as aggravated property offences: The Act provides that
a Court must imprison an offender or require them to participate in a
community work order, unless exceptional circumstances exist.

Dr Jonas stated "A
sense of justice has been restored to the Territory's legal system as
courts will no longer be compelled to sentence Indigenous and other offenders
who have committed petty property crimes to lengthy terms of imprisonment,
without having regard to their circumstances."

"However, I
would prefer the restoration of full judicial discretion in the case of
aggravated property offences. It remains to be seen whether the class
of offences which attract a presumption of imprisonment including for
first time offenders will lead to any further unjust sentences for Indigenous

"The repeal
of mandatory sentencing will allow the focus to be more appropriately
and fully on diversionary options, which have a much greater chance of
addressing the needs of victims as well as appropriately dealing with
juvenile offenders."

The introduction
of diversionary programs has been encouraging and stands in stark contrast
to the impact of mandatory sentencing, Dr Jonas stated. "It is unfortunate,
however, that diversionary programs for juveniles have so far had to operate
in the shadow of mandatory sentencing laws. Also, the deal with the federal
government unacceptably allowed mandatory sentencing for adults to continue."

Dr Jonas called for
the Commonwealth government to ensure that funding for diversionary programs
under the deal with the Territory government be maintained. "It is
essential that the federal government continues to fund these programs
in their formative stages."

Dr Jonas also urged
the Territory government to ensure that its efforts do not end with the
repeal of mandatory sentencing: "I hope that the repeal of these
laws signals the beginning of a new relationship with Indigenous people
in the Territory."

The repeal of mandatory
sentencing in the Northern Territory now means that Western Australia
is the only state in Australia that has laws which impose minimum mandatory
terms of imprisonment for property offences. These laws are currently
under review by a WA Ministry of Justice inquiry. "The Western Australian
mandatory sentencing provisions are bad law. The WA government can expect
more intensive scrutiny of these laws in coming months - they should act
now and repeal these reprehensible laws."

Media Contact
: Jan Payne 0419 258 597

updated 2 December 2001.