Coalition to set minimum sentence standards for serious crime

A Victorian Coalition Government will reform sentencing laws to set standard minimum sentences for serious crimes, Coalition Leader Ted Baillieu said today.

The Coalition will legislate to set a new “baseline” minimum sentence for each offence, which will be the minimum non-parole period that Parliament expects the courts to apply to the typical, or median, case involving that offence.

The courts will be required to make the baseline sentence the starting point for every minimum non-parole period they set.

“At present, sentencing laws specify only the maximum sentence that can apply to the worst examples of an offence; they give no direct guidance at all about what the minimum sentence should be,” Mr Baillieu said.

“As a result, the minimum sentences given by the courts are usually only a small fraction of the maximum set by Parliament.

“Victorians are sick and tired of seeing offenders receive hopelessly inadequate sentences time and time again when they destroy the lives of young people with drugs, or commit the most horrific of murders.

“Too often, current sentencing laws fail to result in penalties for offenders that protect the community and deter would-be offenders.

“Labor’s soft on crime approach has allowed this problem to get to the point where Victorians no longer have confidence in the sentencing regime in this state.

“For example, the average minimum sentence given to drug king-pins is less than four and a half years and the median sentence for murder is only 15 years.

“The Coalition believes that the starting point for an offender who has trafficked in a large commercial quantity of drugs should be 10 years behind bars, and the starting point for murder should be 20 years behind bars.

“The community, through Parliament is entitled to – and needs to – set out in legislation what levels of penalties it expects to apply for various crimes. The courts then apply the law to individual cases.

“The reforms we are announcing today will strengthen sentences across the board for serious crimes, while still leaving courts the flexibility to adjust for individual cases.

“However, crucially, courts will be required to adjust sentences upwards just as much as downwards, instead of sentences being skewed in favour of criminals as they are at present,” Mr Baillieu said.

Baseline minimum sentences will serve two purposes. They will provide a starting point for judges in determining the minimum sentence to be imposed in each case, and they will indicate the sentence that Parliament expects will be the median or mid-point of minimum sentences imposed for cases involving that offence.

In determining the minimum non-parole period to be served by the offender, the sentencing judge will be required to start from the baseline minimum sentence before applying aggravating or mitigating factors that would alter the minimum non-parole period up or down from the baseline.

Baseline minimum sentences will apply for serious offences as defined in the Sentencing Act 1991, which include murder, manslaughter, intentionally causing serious injury, armed robbery and serious sexual offences, and for additional offences such as arson, recklessly causing serious injury, aggravated burglary and major drug trafficking.

Baseline sentences for the full range of offences to be covered will be set after obtaining the advice of the Sentencing Advisory Council and other experts, and the views of the community.

Over time, the Court of Appeal will be able to determine whether or not the median levels of minimum sentences being handed down in practice are in fact aligned with the baseline minimum sentences specified by Parliament and, if not, to require a change accordingly in courts’ sentencing practices.

Both New South Wales and Queensland have moved to introduce standard minimum sentences to give their courts a clearer indication of what the community expects. The Coalition’s legislation will also make clear that over time the median minimum sentence for an offence as handed down by the courts should match the baseline set by the Parliament.

These changes will further strengthen Victoria’s legal system alongside other reforms previously announced by the Coalition, such as abolishing suspended sentences for all offences, abolishing home detention, reforming bail laws and double-jeopardy laws and allowing the Supreme Court to outlaw criminal bikie gangs and other gangs.