Thursday, May 23, 2024

SA serious offender laws to be strengthened

In a move aimed at better protecting the community, the South Australian Government is introducing legislation to significantly reduce sentence discounts available to serious criminal offenders for early guilty pleas.

“This legislation puts the protection of the community at the heart of sentencing laws after the former Labor Government’s discount of sentences for early guilty pleas shifted the balance in favour of serious criminals,” said Attorney-General Vickie Chapman.

“The legislation also requires the courts to consider a number of factors when determining how much a sentence should be reduced to ensure the sentence reflects all the behaviour of the accused associated with the crime.

“These include whether the defendant had concealed their crime and, if so, for how long, whether the case against the defendant was overwhelming and where the defendant has disputed the factual basis for sentence and a court has found against them.”

Ms Chapman said the changes to the laws were based on recommendations by retired Supreme Court Justice, Brian Martin’s review of the system, which was released last year.

“We’ve also consulted with key stakeholders to strike the right balance between offering an incentive that spares victims the trauma of going to court and ensuring that justice has been done,” she said.

“But at the same time, we need to ensure there are no unintended consequences – and I’m confident this Bill represents a sound outcome.”

Under the proposed reforms serious indictable offences such as manslaughter, causing death by dangerous driving and rape would receive a discount of:

  • Up to 25 per cent (reduced from 40 per cent), where the guilty plea is entered within four weeks of the first appearance;
  • Up to 15 per cent (reduced from 30 per cent), where the guilty plea is entered after the first four weeks but on the day of, or before, the committal appearance;
  • Up to ten per cent (reduced from 20 per cent), where the guilty plea is entered from the day after the committal appearance until the defendant is committed to stand trial;
  • Up to five per cent (reduced from 15 per cent), where the guilty plea is entered between when the defendant has been committed to stand trial and immediately after the first arraignment date;
  • Up to five per cent (reduced from ten per cent), where the guilty plea is entered after the first arraignment date but prior to the commencement of the trial – where the court is satisfied where there is a good reason to do so.

“The proposed reforms will also abolish a provision which currently allows a court to reduce a sentence by up to 10% if a defendant has complied with all procedural requirements even though they did not plead guilty to the offence,” said Attorney-General Chapman.

“Defendants who put victims through the trauma of giving evidence at a trial should not be rewarded with a discount to their sentence

“In addition, we have also given the courts very limited discretion to extend the time within which a defendant can receive the maximum reduction.”

She said that in limited circumstances – for example, where the defendant is itinerant, or does not speak reasonably fluent English – they may be able to receive the maximum reduction if the plea is entered within six weeks of the first appearance.

“Discounts for other offences finalised in the District or Supreme Courts will range from 35 per cent (reduced from 40%) to up to five per cent (reduced from 10%).”

“These levels are far more appropriate, in my view, and will fulfil the objectives of the original legislation – namely to facilitate early guilty pleas while ensuring justice is met in the eyes of the broader community.

“Strong penalties, effective solutions is a key component of the Marshall Liberal Government’s Justice Agenda, which can be found at https://www.agd.sa.gov.au.”

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