Jim McGinty

Jim McGinty

Attorney General; Minister for Health; Electoral Affairs

    Truth in sentencing is dead

    3/08/2008 12:00 AM

    New laws to be introduced by the State Government will see offenders who commit the most serious of crimes spending more time in jail than ever before.


    Attorney General Jim McGinty said the Government would introduce legislation to end the automatic one-third reduction of sentences in criminal cases - commonly referred to as ‘truth in sentencing’.


    “The new laws will repeal clause two of the Sentencing Act transitional provisions - removing the compulsory one-third reduction,” Mr McGinty said.


    “Judges will be able to use their discretion to impose extremely tough sentences on criminals who commit horrific crimes.


    “Victims, their families and the general public expect people who commit the most serious crimes to receive the maximum penalty available under the law and we will legislate to see that happens.


    “Government legal advice is that a mere repeal of the ‘truth in sentencing’ transitional provisions will create greater uncertainty, inconsistency in sentencing and could even result in a retention of sentence discounting.


    “For that reason, the Government proposes to not only repeal the ‘truth in sentencing’ transitional provisions but to replace them with a direction to the Court on how sentencing is to be conducted in the future.


    “This will achieve consistency, avoid confusion and ensure that sentence discounting is not revived.”


    Clause two of the Sentencing Act currently provides that if a court proposes to impose a fixed term of imprisonment, “it must impose a fixed term that is two thirds of the fixed term that it would have imposed had the old provisions been in operation at the time of sentencing.”  The effect of repealing this provision will be to abolish the requirement to discount sentences by one-third.


    “Due to the current ‘truth in sentencing’ laws, and prior to that, under remission prisoners in Western Australia have never served the full time in prison laid down as the maximum for each offence.  Now, in the most serious cases, judges will be able to sentence prisoners to serve that maximum and the public can be sure that they will spend that period in jail,” the Attorney General said.


    “Where judges feel that a case does not justify the maximum penalty, they will be directed to have regard to the established ‘tariff’ or ‘precedent’ imposed for similar cases in fixing an appropriate sentence within the statutory maximum for that offence.


    “In a case where a person is convicted of a new offence, or an offence where there is no established general precedent, judges will be directed to fix a sentence in relationship to penalties for other offences.”


    Additionally, Mr McGinty said that at the time the ‘truth in sentencing’ laws were passed by Parliament in 2003, the intention of Parliament had been for the one-third remission to be phased out by not applying to new offences or offences where the penalty had been modified.


    “The existing law needs to be changed because, in operation, it does not reflect the intention of Parliament.  The new laws will overturn the recent decision of the Court of Appeal in Yates v the State of Western Australia so that one-third sentence discounts will no longer apply to new offences or offences with a modified penalty,” the Attorney General said.


    “The ‘discounting’ problem raised by Yates is the result of amendments made to the transitional provisions by Liberal MPs in the Legislative Council in 2003.  However it is our responsibility as Government to fix the problem.


    “From today, prisoners will not be able to capitalise on the unsatisfactory state of sentencing laws and receive an unjustly low penalty for their crimes.


    “Under the new laws, the Director of Public Prosecutions will be given powers to apply to the Court to resentence any offender sentenced after August 1 in accordance with these new provisions.


    “This will apply to prisoners who, relying on the Yates decision, receive a reduced sentence either initially or on appeal.


    “A legislative solution is the best way to remedy this problem.  Accordingly, there will be no High Court appeal in relation to the Yates case.


    “It is vital that the public have confidence in sentencing by the courts.  The Government’s new sentencing scheme should be more easily understood and supported by the general public.”


    Attorney General's - 9422 3000