You're out of touch


July 12, 2004

JUDGES and magistrates are out of touch with the community on every type of crime and penalties should be toughened, an exclusive law and order survey for The Daily Telegraph has found.

More than 7000 readers responded to the survey last month, which shed light on attitudes to crime in NSW.


The poll found an overwhelming majority felt the judiciary was failing when sentencing serious criminals, in


particular in sexual assault cases, where 74 per cent of those surveyed believed magistrates and judges had not met public expectations.


They believed they also failed in dealing with drug traffickers (69 per cent), drug possession, (67 per cent) rape, (73 per cent) and murder (69 per cent).


The only result to come close to judicial approval was in manslaughter and fraud cases, where 24 per cent of respondents thought the courts handled those matters well.


When asked which statement best summed up the NSW judicial system, 78 per cent stated it favoured the criminal while 8 per cent said it was fair.


A majority of respondents also said the death penalty should be brought back for crimes including murder, gang rape and terrorism.


However legal bodies said the results were not representative. Sentences were getting tougher and more people were in jail, they said.


The NSW Law Society's criminal law committee chair, Pauline Wright, said the belief that the judiciary was out of touch was an incorrect perception. "It may be that the public perception is that the courts are out of touch or that penalties are too light, but the reality is different. Imprisonment rates are increasing and penalties are getting tougher, so I suspect the information that is available to the general public is not actually accurately reflecting what is going on in the courts," she said.


Ms Wright said one reason was that sentences which attracted media attention generally were the most dramatic and emotional, hence the public feeling that judges were out of touch.


"They are actually quite well in touch, because they are faced with the worst part of society on a daily basis," Ms Wright said. "Obviously judges are human and mistakes can be made but on the whole judges get it right most of the time." Ms Wright said the fact that 93 per cent of respondents said gang rape sentences should be increased was out of step with reality, which was that gang rapists had received some of the heaviest sentences in the courts in recent times.


Police Commissioner Ken Moroney said: "Sometimes they get it right and sometimes the community and the media will express frustration."


An overwhelming majority of respondents believed penalties should be toughened for a majority of crimes including home invasion, sexual assault, gang rape and murder.