Controversial “baseline” sentencing bill introduced

The Sentencing Amendment (Baseline Sentences) Bill 2014 has been introduced to the Victorian parliament, with the aim of increasing penalties for certain crimes. The legislation sets out an intended median prison term for an offence, and requires judges to “act compatibly” with that intention—without setting out a process to follow. Senior judges responding to a draft version of the bill told the government it was “unworkable”. The introduction of baseline sentencing was an election commitment made by the Coalition in 2010, which has been controversial. The incoming government sought the Sentencing Advisory Council’s advice on implementation, but its report observed: “The Attorney-General has not asked the Council for advice on the merits of a baseline sentencing scheme or whether a baseline sentencing scheme should be introduced. The majority of stakeholders expressed strong opposition to a baseline sentencing scheme.” The Law Institute of Victoria says the bill would “unduly limit judicial discretion, over-complicate the sentencing process and, ultimately, fail to act as a deterrent.”