Home' Horizons : April-May 2011 Contents www.rac.com.au
Associate Professor David Indermaur also
sees the charge of dangerous driving causing
death as a slightly strange offence, when
compared to other homicide areas such as
murder and manslaughter.
"Not discounting for a moment the
seriousness of what happens, if the person
had not died, the driver would be charged
with a much lesser offence of dangerous
driving," he said.
"The offence considers the effect of the
act, not the intent."
The criminologist with UWA's Crime
Research Centre has investigated community
confidence -- or the lack of it -- in judicial
sentences, finding a pervasive view that
courts are too lenient. A recent study
published for the Australian Institute of
Criminology found 72 per cent of people
believed courts needed to give stiffer
sentences to law breakers, while only 46 per
cent had confidence that courts could deal
with the rights of victims.
At the same time, though, few people
understood the nature of sentences handed
down, and often underestimated their
He believes a more effective way to cut
dangerous driving causing death is to focus
on tougher sentences for all dangerous
driving -- not just those crashes ending in
The RAC's Matt Brown believes the State
Government needs to look again at how
sentences for dangerous driving are applied,
and ensure the courts reflect community
Until that happens, he said, confidence in
the system will remain low.
"The court system should never be about
revenge but the community expects it to
deliver justice," Mr Brown said.
"Very few families who have lost a loved
one through the stupidity of a dangerous
driver would believe justice has been
Simon Barr has seen many families
go through the double tragedy
of losing someone they love
through crime -- and then being let
down by the system that is supposed
to deliver justice.
Mr Barr is the convener of the
Homicide Victims Support Group,
one of very few organisations in
WA able to support people reeling
after the unlawful killing of a family
And while group members have
usually lost loved ones through murder
or manslaughter, they understand the
experience of watching drawn-out court
cases, sitting through troubling testimony,
and finding the end sentence does little to
ease their pain.
Families usually attend weeks or months
of court proceedings, often hearing
evidence that is harsh or even untrue about
the victim, but are unable to counteract
this in court. The routine means they may
be in uncomfortably close contact with the
person who stole away their loved one's
life. They may not seek retribution through
sentencing, but they do demand justice.
Mr Barr, who lost his 16-year-old son
Arran in an assault that the law at the time
deemed accidental, believes courts should
give more consideration to the victim and
the lives shattered by unlawful deaths.
"You see, these people -- the prosecutor,
the judge, the defence lawyer, the clerk, the
jury -- well, they have never met the victim,"
said Mr Barr.
"In a serious assault at least the jury has
the opportunity to assess the victim. When
there is a loss of life in a criminal act, there
is no one there to stand up for the victim.
There is no one to tell their story.
"How is it that we have a system that
a perpetrator can be sentenced to such
a marginal loss of liberty in comparison
to the loss of life of the victim, and the
damage that it does to parents, marriages,
brothers and sisters?"
Mr Barr believes the judicial system
needs reform -- to the extent of changing
the law to allow judges to be sacked if they
don't meet the will of the public.
In particular, he believes sentences
should be much more severe when human
life is at stake.
"We have to change the system where
crimes against the person are less important
than crimes against property," he said.
"Our biggest fight is not with the
politicians to change the laws or make
tougher laws -- our biggest fight is with
the judiciary and the attitude and the
stance they take. When was the last time
that you saw a maximum sentence given?
It doesn't happen. How bad does a crime
have to get?"
"She was treated
as less than a
This quote summed up
how one man felt about
the court system after a
drug driver, who had driven
the wrong way down the
freeway killing the man's
wife, received a sentence
of less than three years and
a non-parole period of just
As a result of this case,
the RAC began lobbying for
the law to be changed.
The State government
was unresponsive initially
but the RAC found a
sympathetic ear in Road
Safety Minister Rob
Johnson who referred the
issue to the Road Safety
Council for advice.
The Road Safety Council
has now recommended
that the law be changed
to ensure drink and drug
driving causing death
cases are not heard
as summary offences,
meaning the accused face
tougher maximum jail
The RAC believes
the government now
has no option but to
follow through on this
RAC TAKES A STAND
fight is with the
David Indermaur has
confidence in judicial
Simon Barr is the
convener of the
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