Legislative Council: Tuesday, August 29, 2023


Criminal Sentencing

The Hon. D.G.E. HOOD (15:28): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking a question of the Attorney-General regarding, you guessed it, lenient sentencing.

Leave granted.

The Hon. K.J. Maher interjecting:

The Hon. D.G.E. HOOD: I think it's very unlikely. On 21 April this year, at Jens Hotel in Mount Gambier, a local man was followed by a 19-year-old man named Seth Williams, before being brutally bashed without provocation. A 30-centimetre machete was pulled on the victim and he was fortunate not to sustain serious long-term injuries after the perpetrator stomped on the victim's head while he lay on the ground. Only two months earlier, Seth Williams was caught with a knife on Hindley Street and was charged for carrying a weapon and put on a good behaviour bond.

In Mount Gambier Magistrates Court, Mr Williams pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated affray, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of aggravated assault carrying a weapon and one count of illicit possession of prescription medication, in addition to breaching his good behaviour bond.

Magistrate Justin Wickins warned Mr Williams that a charge of affray attracted a maximum penalty of five years, whilst his aggravated assault charges could attract three years' imprisonment for each charge. However, he was handed just a three-month and 10-day prison sentence, which was suspended entirely on an 18-month good behaviour bond fixed at just $500. My questions to the Attorney-General are:

1. Does the Attorney-General believe that justice has been served and that the public should feel safe as a result of this sentence? If not, what inquiries will the Attorney make to determine the reasoning for this lenient sentencing decision?

2. What assurances can the Attorney give the South-East community, and indeed the whole South Australian community, who believe that lenient sentences like these undermine the hard work being done by our police force?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:30): I thank the honourable member for his question and his interest, as displayed often in this chamber, in the criminal justice system. I will answer generally, as I have a number of times when the honourable member has asked about sentences that have been handed down.

I don't have any information before me about the particular case the honourable member refers to, but it is us as a parliament that set down the parameters in which the judiciary hand down sentences after criminal trials. I don't have the benefit—and I am sure the honourable member doesn't—of having heard all the evidence that was presented and tested in that court as to the exact nature of what occurred and the exact personal circumstances in which it occurred.

But what I can say as a general proposition is that magistrates and justices use the tools and the laws which we give them as a parliament in terms of handing sentences down, and if there is an occasion where, in the totality of the individual circumstances, the facts presented, tested and accepted by a jury or court, that sentence is too light, the DPP will and does often regularly lodge appeals against sentences that are manifestly inadequate. I am sure that if the decision was made in this case that is what would occur.