All Western Australian courts will be required by law to take account of the need to protect the community when making sentencing decisions, under changes to the Criminal Code approved by State Parliament last night.
Attorney General Joe Berinson said courts were previously required to take into account:
· the seriousness of the offence;
· the circumstances of the commission of the offence;
· circumstances personal to the offender; and -
· any special circumstances of the case.
Protection of the community had now been added to the list, placed second only to the seriousness of the offence.
"This is an important recognition of the rights of the community, and serves as a clear instruction to the courts to place due emphasis on this aspect of law and order," Mr Berinson said.
The Criminal Law Amendment Bill also addresses a long-running concern over the number of people being sent to gaol for short periods.
Mr Berinson said over 70 per cent of prisoners received into Western Australian gaols had sentences of six months or less, making up about 15 per cent of prisoners at any one time.
"This is unacceptable when such short sentences are widely regarded as having no or extremely limited benefit in terms of either crime prevention or rehabilitation," he said.
The legislation requires courts not to impose sentences of six months or less unless there are no other means to properly deal with a case.
In such cases, courts would have to provide specific reasons in writing why imprisonment was the only appropriate penalty.
Mr Berinson said exceptions would apply in cases involving aggregate sentences of more than six months, and for offences under the Prisons Act committed by prisoners.
The legislation also makes it a serious offence for people to deliberately spread AIDS and other infectious diseases, with penalties of up to 20 years' imprisonment.
Mr Berinson said that even in cases where the disease was not contracted, the offence of intending to cause grievous bodily harm would attract a penalty of up to 20 years' imprisonment.
The new laws will come into effect within a matter of days once they receive formal assent from the Governor.