Old 20th Mar 2014, 13:08
  #11583 (permalink)  
Worrals in the wilds
Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: Sunny side up
Posts: 1,205
Larry Pickering presents an interesting case against mandatory minimum sentencing in his latest editorial. Many (even - maybe that should be 'particularly' - those who can't stand him) might find it worth reading.
It is. Every now and again Pickering makes a decent point.
Mandatory sentencing is policially fashionable. Pollies adore it because it gives them the opportunity to be seen to be Doing Something without actually making an effort. It's easier for them to have a crack at the judiciary than examine the governance issues that contribute to crime... for instance the hot potato of pub opening hours .

Do they want to discuss this governance issue and its contribution to the rates of assaults and violence? Hell no. That would involve annoying a lot of political contributors (to both sides of politics) who run pubs, and that could get ugly. Now, what was that soundbite about mandatory sentencing again? That sounds much easier to spruik on about. After all, the judiciary make no financial contributions to political parties and are largely contrained from commenting publically by both professional privelige and a desire to be made SCs/QCs or Chief Justice .

It ignores the basic fact that almost any dispute involves complex circumstances. That is why the law is generally not cut and dried, even if the statutes seem that way. Pollies like cut and dried; it makes for easy politics. The media also do their best to make complicated issues cut and dried, because then they can sell them as soundbites . Both groups continually try to turn complex human interactions into Big Simple Emotive Stories because that suits their interests. However, that doesn't usually provide justice.

Mandatory sentencing works well for simple offences. Park your car in a bus zone; here is the penalty. Get caught driving your car 15-30 kmph over the posted speed limit; here's your fine. Simple penalties work for simple wrongs, but when it comes to more complex crimes then there are more factors at play.

Pickering's example isn't even all that complex, but it illustrates the issues that come to play. This is why we (as taxpayers and citizens) maintain a judiciary; to examine the issues within disputes and sentence or award damages accordingly. This is why we maintain the jury system for criminal trials, even though each member of the jury has to take time off work to hear the facts and make their group decision based on what they hear. That is why we have a 1000 year old justice system that is based upon each party being able to voice their side of the story before an impartial judge (initally the King or his representative); a system that pre-dates politicians by about 500 years and the media by another 400. We have a complex system because we live in a complex society; a society that recognizes strange entities like trusts, corporations and crimes. A bozo politician advocating simple solutions to such complex issues should be treated with suspicion, because these are not simple issues; so therefore, what is his/her intention? Is it about resolving the issue, or about cheap political points?

I suspect that many pollies (and definitely the media) would prefer that we made it simple. They'd prefer we left it all to them to decide on our behalf. Every time I hear a pollie or a media gob advocating mandatory sentencing I get very suspicious about their intent , because what they're really suggesting is weakening the judiciary's power; a power that was hard fought for (and won) in the face of both political and royal opposition.

The govenment should govern and the judiciary should judge; when these functions get muddied then I think it weakens the separation of powers. Invariably mandatory sentencing is advocated by pollies not judges; usually (IMO) to score cheap political points with the media rather than to ensure actual justice.

Last edited by Worrals in the wilds; 20th Mar 2014 at 13:50.
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