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29 Nov 2017

Criminal Law (Sentencing) (Mandatory Imprisonment for Serious Domestic Violence Offenders) Amendment Bill

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN (19:51): I rise to speak to the Criminal Law (Sentencing) (Mandatory Imprisonment for Serious Domestic Violence Offenders) Amendment Bill. As the Hon. Mr Parnell has advised the chamber, the bill was introduced into this chamber by the Hon. Robert Brokenshire in late October, and we acknowledge his work in this area. He has tabled a bill following certain cases involving serious domestic violence that have recently been considered in the South Australian courts. I will not traverse the details of those cases, given they were explained in detail by the Hon. Robert Brokenshire in his second reading explanation.

These cases serve as an important reminder of the prevalence of domestic violence in our community. I would like to place on the record my appreciation to those involved in those cases who have written to my office seeking support for the bill before the chamber. I acknowledge the trauma and suffering the victims continue to endure long after the physical scars have healed.

The bill seeks to amend the Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act 1988. It seeks to ensure that any person, whether a youth or an adult, who is convicted of a serious domestic violence offence, must be sentenced to at least two years’ imprisonment, which cannot be suspended. This will capture close personal relationships, for example, a spouse or former spouse, domestic partners or former domestic partners, a child or a stepchild, grandchildren or close family members. My understanding is that the types of offences that will be captured will include assault, rape and other sexual offences, and causing physical or mental harm.

The bill has also been drafted to capture youth offenders, subjecting them to the same two-year mandatory minimum imprisonment in the youth training centre if found guilty of a serious domestic violence offence. I note there are some similarities in the proposed amendments to the current provisions concerning the mandatory imprisonment of a serious firearm offender in the Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act; however, there is an important distinction in that those extant provisions do not prescribe a length of sentence that must be imposed.

While the bill is well-intentioned, the Liberal Party is wary of proposals that seek to prescribe mandatory minimum sentences. This is especially so given fairly recent experiences in other jurisdictions that have shown that they are not effective in reducing the instances of the offence they target. The Liberal Party is also concerned this bill captures youth offenders, potentially detaining them for a minimum of two years, regardless of their age, immaturity, mental health issues or the need for rehabilitation.

In closing, whilst the Liberal Party is extremely sympathetic to the intent of this bill, we are not convinced that the measures contained in it will reduce the prevalence of family violence in our community. We are also wary of mandatory minimum sentences having unintended consequences by removing the ability of the courts to deal with the particular facts and circumstances of each individual case it hears. As I said, the Liberal Party is very sympathetic to the intent of this bill, but does not feel at this time that it can support the same.

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