I had the honour of travelling to Canberra and attending the ceremonial sitting for the swearing in of the Honourable Chief Justice Gageler of the High Court of Australia on 6 November 2023. I felt very humbled listening to what his Honour has accomplished over what can only be described as an inspiring legal career. His Honour commenced his career as a High Court associate in the mid-80’s and now some 40 years later has been sworn in as the 14th Chief Justice. Many of you will have seen the media coverage and noted that His Honour has become the first Chief Justice to formally acknowledge indigenous Australians during the ceremony.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have continued discussions with Ms Emma White, and Mr Timothy Drew, Chair of the Northern Early Career Lawyers Committee in relation to expanding the Legal Practice Graduate program for students to travel and spend time in a regional area. Currently, this is only available on the Northwest Coast. It is anticipated that the inaugural event in Northern Tasmania will take place in March next year. This will allow the opportunity for trainees to meet young practitioners and judicial officers, along with more senior legal practitioners based in Launceston. It is hopeful that will allow the students an opportunity make connections in Launceston and assist with the recruitment of graduate lawyers in Launceston.
Mr Andre Leslie from ABC northern Tasmania radio reached out to me last week in relation to the legislative changes which have been made in Tasmania around strangulation, which is now identified as a crime. Council member Mr Dinesh Loganathan represented the Law Society and was interviewed by Mr Leslie on 2 November.
On the morning of 1 November 2023, the Attorney-General contacted both the Executive Director, Mr Rheinberger and me to provide us with notice that he would be seeking to introduce the Sentencing Amendment(Presumption of Mandatory Sentencing)Bill 2023. The Society has also had contact from the Shadow Attorney-General, Ms Haddad in relation to the proposed bill.
In summary the Bill is seeking to amend the Sentencing Act to provide for a minimum term of imprisonment in relation to a conviction for the following offences:
Four years’ imprisonment for the crime of rape (section 185 of the Criminal Code) where a victim is under 18 years at the time of the offence.
Four years’ imprisonment for the crime of persistent sexual abuse of a child or young person (section 125A of the Criminal Code) where at least one of the unlawful sexual acts is a crime of rape.
Three years’ imprisonment for the crime of persistent sexual abuse of a child or young person (section 125A of the Criminal Code) where none of the unlawful sexual acts is a crime of rape.
Two years’ imprisonment for the crime of penetrative sexual abuse of a child or young person (section 124 of the Criminal Code); and
Two years’ imprisonment for the crime of penetrative sexual abuse of a child or young person by a person in a position of authority (section 124A of the Criminal Code).
In addition, the victim of the offence must not have attained the age of 18 at the time the offence was committed and there must be one or more aggravating circumstances as set out in section 11A of the Sentencing Act.
The presumption of mandatory minimal sentences proposed in the Bill would not apply where the Court is of the opinion that the imposition of such sentence would be unjust when considering the circumstances of the offence or the offender. The provision will not apply to offenders under the age of 18 at the time the crime was committed, or, in certain circumstances, to offenders who have impaired mental function that is casually linked to the crime. This is an important issue, and the Law Society will make written submissions. The Law Society did not support the initial bill and has consistently opposed mandatory sentencing proposals, but is still working on a formal response.
The Vice President, Mr Will Justo and myself recently discussed one of my key focus areas, namely the health and wellbeing of the Tasmania Legal Profession. We share the view that this is an important issue not just for legal practitioners but for our support staff. As practitioners, we are heavily reliant upon our support staff. Support staff are often the backbone of a successful practice. It is important that we have not just highly skilled but healthy members of staff. Creating personal resilience with support staff will help boost resilience in the overall workplace.
Mr Justo and I are looking into training options for CPD programs which we can offer to our support staff to address the above and to complement the Society’s existing CPD program for support staff. If you are interested in your support staff participating in such options, then I invite you to contact Mr Justo or myself so we can assess the amount of interest from around the state and look at what programs we might be able to make available next year.