I have always thought that we in Australia and specifically New South Wales have one of the world’s finest justice systems. I am reluctant to criticise judges and courts. They are under enough pressure from the brilliant and finely nuanced judicial minds on talkback radio and in tabloid newspapers who seem to believe that every sentence is too light. However, a recent decision in the Hunter revealed a significant problem. It seems our system still lacks a little bit of common sense.
The case involved a man who had pleaded guilty to breaking into a family home in the electorate of Cessnock, using the family’s shower and eating their food. This was just over 12 months after he had been convicted of theft for breaking into a house, stealing a fridge, a microwave, cutlery, a lawn mower and a Foxtel box. For the most recent Cessnock break-in he was sentenced to 16 months jail, with a nine month non-parole period. He received an additional six months for breaching his good behaviour bond from the 2012 theft. He appealed to the District Court. The Maitland Mercury reported the appeal judge as noting that the appellant’s “previous record was for minor nuisance and driving matters but in recent years had escalated into more serious matters for weapons possession and assault”. What was that fine judge to do? He decided to let him out. The appeal was upheld and he was placed on another good behaviour bond.
The family whose home was briefly colonised by this man is enraged and fearful in equal measure, and well they might be. Their house is situated on the beautiful Mount View hillside some distance from their nearest neighbour. It simply does not make sense to let this man out. He has committed repeated offences that are becoming more serious and violent, yet he was not given a jail sentence. To lock people up is not always the solution, but surely sometimes it has to be. The community must be kept safe. This man underwent a probation and parole program, but despite this he went on to commit a further offence.
It is extremely troubling that under the laws of this State the judge found this man was not a danger to the community and that he did not deserve punishment. I will happily provide the details of the case to the Attorney General as I believe this decision should be reviewed. I sincerely hope the Director of Public Prosecutions appeals the case. However, a broader issue is involved: Our approach to justice requires reflection. Whilst prison is always the last resort, we cannot place community safety at risk by pursuing some utopian notion of rehabilitation in every case. Put simply, there must be justice for the victim.