Paedophiles walk as their victims suffer
- The Daily Telegraph
- April 29, 2013
ONLY three of the 238 men convicted of having sex with a child under 10 in the past decade have been jailed for what the government has set as a standard minimum term of 15 years.
One man who raped a child was behind bars for as little as nine months.
The shocking truth of such lenient sentences is revealed as The Daily Telegraph launches a campaign to force judges to do what the community expects through setting mandatory minimum terms for all sex crimes against children.
Angry child protection advocates and victims groups say that judges should not be free to ignore the standard non-parole periods set as guidelines for paedophiles and others who possess child pornography.
Even Attorney-General Greg Smith yesterday acknowledged more needed to be done to bring sentences into line with what the public think is appropriate.
Mr Smith said the community considered sexual intercourse with a child under 10 was among the most heinous offences and “wants sentencing to reflect this”.
But the system of standard non-parole periods, introduced in 2003 as “guideposts” aimed at bringing consistency to sentences, is not working, Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston said.
“There should be mandatory minimum sentences because we can’t trust the judges,” she said.
Ms Johnston said Bravehearts had long opposed such sentences because it could see sense in judges’ arguments that they were best placed to see all the issues and determine the right sentence.
“But we have adjusted that view because it is obvious that judges do not reflect community expectations,” Ms Johnston said.
“When standard non-parole periods were introduced, we thought, this is fantastic. It will give some certainty.
“But we have since looked at how they operate in NSW and found quite a large percentage of cases are falling outside the template.”
In the past decade, the longest non-parole periods imposed for having sex with a child under the age of 10, in cases of domestic violence, were just nine months and one year, according to Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research figures. Of 238 men convicted of having sex with a child under 10 in the same period, only three were jailed for what the government has set as a standard minimum term of 15 years.
Victims of Crime Assistance League’s Howard Brown said sex crimes against children fell in a special category where the sentence needed to be spelled out clearly as a mandatory minimum period.
“The reason judges oppose this, and I understand their rationale in a general sense, is that we should never remove the independence of the judiciary so they become beholden to government,” he said.
“But there is that saying that with rights come responsibilities and the general community is of the view that judges have abrogated their responsibilities by not handing down sentences that reflect community concerns.”
There are 35 offences for which the government sets standard non-parole periods, five of them cover sex crimes against children as young as 10. They include creating child pornography but not possessing it.
Mr Smith will today announce an overhaul of the system of standard non-parole periods but denied it was sparked after being notified about The Daily Telegraph campaign. He said it was partly prompted by a 2011 High Court ruling in a case of a child sex offender which reduced even more the significance a judge has to place on standard non-parole periods.
He said research showed sentences had increased since the introduction of standard non-parole periods but there was still inconsistency. But he does not support mandatory minimum terms for child sex crimes.
The only mandatory sentence in NSW is life for the murder of a police officer.
“We know the community wants tougher sentences and we will seek to get more guidance to the courts so they realise community concern,” Mr Smith said. “But nevertheless we need to maintain judicial discretion because no one case is the same as another.”
Mr Smith raised the spectre of rapists killing their victims after “Queensland police at their top level” had concerns that mandatory sentences in that state could lead to murders. Ms Smith said that two barristers who he had asked to review sentences for child sex crimes had “not been able to show a pattern of trivial sentencing”.