For a person whose innocence is stolen as a child and whose life has been irrevocably damaged, what constitutes justice?
Last month, Malcolm Fox was convicted of four counts of unlawful sexual intercourse. These crimes were perpetrated by him – a drama teacher - against a student who trusted and admired him. Today, a four-year sentence with a two year non-parole period was handed down. Fox is to appeal this decision.
The victim’s sentence is life. But for the perpetrator, it’s four years.
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So radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir will spend the next 15 years eating porridge, or bubur as rice porridge is known in Indonesia. It is not long enough. The only thing softer than bubur is his sentence.
In the mid 2000s, Bashir served 26 months of a 30 month sentence for being part of an “evil conspiracy” behind the Bali Bombings. Many felt he should have been put away for life then.
Bashir has just been found “legally and convincingly guilty” of planning and motivating others to commit terrorism, and of using violence or the threat of violence to create fear. Well, how does all that warrant a meagre 15 years when Schappelle Corby copped 20 for her boogie board bag full of dope?
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Justice is “the principle that punishment should be proportionate to the offence”. Well, that’s a dictionary definition anyway.
For many innocent victims of dangerous driving in South Australia, justice would seem to be a myth. In March last year, John Swindle was walking his dog when killed by a 17-year-old speeding along Saint Bernards Road, Magill. Under the effects of alcohol and cannabis, the P-plater panicked and fled.
In February, the Adelaide Youth Court spared the boy a jail term, instead handing down a suspended sentence, a $1,000 fine and a 10-year licence ban.
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Earlier this year Tony Abbott warned us that we should be wary of taking seriously those comments he makes about policy when speaking off the cuff. Presumably, his suggestion in a community forum this week that Australia might consider moving to elect its judges falls into this category. We can only hope that is the case.
Anxiety over perceived leniency in criminal sentencing is never too far from the surface of public discussion and as a result we might expect that politicians have given the issue some thought before they express an opinion.
Certainly it is hard to credit that a political figure as senior as Mr Abbott would be caught off guard when quizzed about judges, sentencing and community values, as he was at the Brisbane forum.
What exactly did the Leader of the Opposition say? “I never want lightly to change our existing systems, but I’ve got to say if we don’t get a better sense of the punishment fitting the crime, this is almost inevitable. If judges don’t treat this kind of thing appropriately, sooner or later, we will do something that we’ve never done in this country. We will elect judges. And we will elect judges that will better reflect want we think is our sense of anger at this kind of thing.”
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It is just a matter of time before we once again see an outraged local community - concerned Mums, Dads and Grandparents – holding placards and rallying against having convicted paedophile Dennis Ferguson as a neighbour.
It’s happened at least 4 times in the last 5 years, and the scene will be replayed over and over. Each time we see public opinion divide into two camps – the larger one believing that this repeat-offender ought not be living in any community with children (and certainly not theirs), and the smaller camp decrying vigilantism and claiming the guy has a right to live in the community having “done his time”.
But let’s stop for a moment and look at the concept of “having done his time”.
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It was recently revealed that the Victorian Labor Government employs “a small army” of media minders and spin-meisters. But Brumby’s battalions of PR hacks cannot deny the undeniable fact that crime rages out of control.
The evidence is right there in front of us. Our TV screens and newspapers are filled with stories of the street violence that is seemingly an everyday occurrence in Victoria.
It has gotten so bad that even the police are intimidated by the marauding thugs who have come to rule our streets.
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