Scrapping suspended sentences courting disaster

Warrnambool's legal fraternity fear more people will soon face prison when laws are rolled out in September scrapping suspended sentences in the magistrates court.

Warrnambool's legal fraternity fear more people will soon face prison when laws are rolled out in September scrapping suspended sentences in the magistrates court.

WARRNAMBOOL’S legal fraternity fear more people will soon face prison when laws are rolled out in September scrapping suspended sentences in the magistrates court.

Western District Law Association president Tony Robinson said the decision by the Coalition government would leave fewer sentencing options on the table for magistrates.

“Suspended sentences ought not to be done away with,” Mr Robinson said. 

“They’re a very useful and effective sentencing tool.”

The 30-year criminal defence solicitor said he raised the concerns personally with state Attorney-General Robert Clark in January this year. 

Mr Robinson said the sentencing had been an effective deterrent and most reoffenders did complete their prison sentence. 

“It’s quite a sword to have hanging over your head,” Mr Robinson said. 

“It can include anything as simple as shoplifting a Mars Bar. 

“It works and you know the impact that it has on defendants.” 

In recent months magistrates in Warrnambool have warned solicitors and clients alike that the option will no longer be available come September. 

The state Attorney-General announced the legal overhaul in September last year, arguing offenders were merely being “sentenced on paper”. 

The government will encourage magistrates to issue community corrections orders instead. 

However, Mr Robinson said solicitors were concerned magistrates would “look up” and impose higher sentences. 

He said the changes would lead to more jail sentences, placing further strain on the state’s prison system, and warned the courts would see more appeals. 

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