A month-long sitting of the Warrnambool County Court has exposed obvious flaws in the appeals process.
There have been 23 appeals heard by newly appointed judge, Bill Stuart. Of those, 20 appellants received more lenient sentences.
It begs the obvious question: why were so many of the original sentences so wrong? The answer is that, for the most part, they probably weren’t.
Judge Stuart was a respected barrister before being appointed to the bench earlier this year.
But may we respectfully suggest that he still has much to learn about the workings of the Magistrates’ Court.
While in Warrnambool, he has continually had to ask Office Of Public Prosecutions prosecutors and defence lawyers about the extent of his powers concerning appeals.
Judge Stuart has cited the Sentencing Act, stating that courts must not automatically impose custodial sentences if there is an alternative.
This objective, he said, was often overlooked in the south-west with experienced local magistrate Jonathan Klestadt bearing the brunt of criticism for heavy sentencing.
Cases before a magistrate can be mentioned numerous times before reaching a resolution, which often involves a withdrawal of charges in return for a guilty plea to others.
Defendants then receive a sentencing discount, the system being geared towards faster, uncontested outcomes.
Local police prosecutors are pivotal to this process.
They are armed with full briefs of evidence, including statements from witnesses and all the circumstances surrounding the alleged crime.
They know the case inside out. Despite this it is left to visiting OPP barristers to act on appeal, because police do not have the power to prosecute in the County Court.
The OPP barristers often present the case in a very different light, devoid of any background knowledge and it has become laughably clear in this session of the Warrnambool County Court that the prosecution system for appeals is woeful.
This is not the fault of the police prosecutors but as a result, it has appeared to many that Judge Stuart has been presiding without an accurate representation of the facts.
The dispensing of justice Judge Stuart-style has left many in the community dumbfounded.
And as an exercise in reflecting community expectation on tougher sentencing, it has failed miserably.