I think it is important to correct some information contained in a recent letter from Alice Springs Women’s Shelter chief executive Di Gipney.
Ms Gipney took issue with sentencing remarks by a judge of the Northern Territory Supreme Court when sentencing an offender for historical child sex offences.
The judge referred to the conditions in which the offender had been detained while on remand in the Alice Springs Correctional Centre and was reported as saying, “The conditions are appalling, overcrowded and without any significant ventilation, more like those commonly found in Third World countries rather than in a country like Australia.”
He gave those conditions “some weight” in determining an appropriate sentence.
In her letter, Ms Gipney said that prison conditions and sentencing were two separate issues that should have no bearing on one another.
However, that is not the law. It is well established law that where an offender has been detained on remand in conditions that are worse than conditions for sentenced prisoners, that is a relevant factor which a judge can, and in appropriate circumstances should, take into account in determining what is a proper sentence.
It was, therefore, entirely appropriate for the judge in question to give those conditions “some weight”.
In her letter, Ms Gipney urged the judge to base his sentencing according to the “full application of the law”, accused him of being more interested in the well-being of offenders than of victims, and characterised his remarks about conditions at the prison as political.
This misrepresents what the judge did. In placing “some weight” on the “appalling conditions” in which the offender was detained on remand, the judge was applying the law.
Those conditions were relevant according to well-established sentencing principles – as were the harm to the victim, general and personal deterrence, denunciation, punishment, community protection and matters personal to the offender, on all of which the judge was obliged to place appropriate weight.
Justice Glenn Martin, AM
Judicial Conference of Australia