20th May 2018
The recent decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal to ignore imposing the mandatory term of imprisonment on two offenders who violently assaulted a Paramedic highlights the need for a higher level of accountability for judicial officers.
The counter argument that there can always be an appeal against sentences imposed, or not imposed, is disingenuous as many considerations kerb that course of action, including the cost of a further appeal.
The real issue is the lack of real accountability of the judiciary. Judicial officials must reflect the sentencing regime of a democratically elected Parliament that sets parameters for available sentences.
Murder, where a convicted offender may receive a life sentence, rarely with more than a lenient minimum term to be served, is the only occasion where a maximum sentence is sometimes imposed. We challenge anyone to identify any other case in the past twenty five years in Victoria that attracted the maximum sentence, despite the often long criminal history of the offender. Courts consistently and persistently thumb their collective noses at Parliament’s wishes. How many convictions must an offender have before a maximum sentence is imposed?
How can this wonton disregard of our elected Parliaments be tolerated? This continued behaviour is a systemic abuse of the separation of powers and is contempt of our Parliament.
The path to a solution must be to make judicial officials at all levels of courts accountable for their actions. This can be achieved through a Judicial Committee established on bipartisan lines that would inter alia require that those presiding in courts do more to meet community expectations. Those officiating who do not should be called to account.
A necessary corollary is that the appointment of judicial officials must be by contract so that those who act as a law unto themselves can have their services terminated at the end of a contract period.
In the United States many judges are elected officials. If community standards are not met they are most unlikely to be re-elected. We do not advocate this for Victoria but greater accountability must be achieved if the general populace is to continue to respect our courts.