A WARRNAMBOOL County Court judge has again blasted south-west magistrates for sentencing offenders to jail terms when he believed there were other options open.
Judge Bill Stuart made scathing comments in court yesterday while downgrading a two-month prison term to a $300 fine.
Regular Warrnambool drug-related offender Lindsay White, 49, was previously found guilty of dealing in property suspected of being the proceeds of crime ($450 in cash) and two counts of possessing cannabis.
Those offences breached a two-month suspended sentence which was imposed for possession and use of methamphetamine. On October 4 last year White received a total effective sentence of two months’ imprisonment.
During the current sitting of the County Court, White has appeared three times with medical certificates after he suffered injuries in a motorbike accident.
He had negotiated a deal with the prosecution to withdraw the charge of dealing in the proceeds of crime as long as he abandoned his appeal.
White was ready to serve his time in jail but was trying to put it off while he recovered from a broken collarbone. He was unrepresented as Victorian Legal Aid knocked back his request for representation on a merit basis.
He has significant prior convictions for drug-related offending, including drug trafficking.
Yesterday experienced barrister Robert Thyssen was in court for another appeal and offered his services to White free of charge.
The appeal had originally been listed for a plea against sentence and conviction and when the prosecution applied for the case to be adjourned so police witnesses could be called to give evidence that application was rejected by Judge Bill Stuart.
The police officer who compiled the brief of evidence is on holiday.
The Office of Public Prosecutions solicitor was then forced to lead no evidence in relation to the charge of dealing with the proceeds of crime, the charge was dismissed by Judge Stuart and the previously- breached suspended sentence was no longer a consideration.
Judge Stuart highlighted the seriousness of the sentence and that White had the opportunity to be represented. He then heard a plea on the two charges of possessing cannabis and imposed a fine of $300.
Judge Stuart said relatively minor offending had breached the two-month suspended sentence and White could only avoid serving such a sentence if he found there were exceptional circumstances.
Judge Stuart also urged magistrates in the south-west to consider the Sentencing Act, which he said stated that courts must not impose prison terms unless there were no other dispositions which could cover the purposes of sentencing.
“That objective is often overlooked as I have discovered in this circuit in this region,” he said.
Earlier Judge Stuart described the sentencing as unusual, not appropriate and the disposition as “very heavy”.
He said how a disposition of two months’ imprisonment was arrived at by the learned magistrate was “utterly beyond me”.
The judge said a sentence of imprisonment by any judicial officer had to be done with great care.
Judge Stuart said that a sentence of two months’ imprisonment for using and possessing amphetamine was inexplicable, manifestly excessive and there was no explanation why a jail sentence, even partly or wholly suspended, was imposed.