Anger pours out at rally backing tougher sentencing

By Geoff Strong

August 9, 2004



Protesters throng the Parliament House steps yesterday calling for tougher sentencing.
Picture:Shannon Morris

Tears and anger poured onto the steps of State Parliament yesterday as up to 10,000 people rallied to back tougher sentences for sex offenders and other criminals.

Protesters came from as far afield as Shepparton and Colac to the demonstration, called by radio talkback host Derryn Hinch after a court last week freed a pedophile rapist.

Hinch said he was overwhelmed by the response but said it demonstrated there was "a sea of heartbreak" among crime victims who feel they are ignored by the court system.

Opposition Leader Robert Doyle, the only state politician to address the meeting, outlined his party's policy, which would allow Parliament to set minimum sentences for crime that judges could shorten only under exceptional circumstances.

Other speakers represented victim support groups. They included Sarah, a rape victim. She spoke about how the attack affected her life and how angry she felt about her attacker's lenient sentence.

The triggers for the rally were cases in the past two weeks in which rapists got suspended sentences. In one case a 27-year-old man walked free after confessing to three counts of digital penetration of a seven-year-old girl.

The other was a failure by the Director of Public Prosecutions to overturn a suspended sentence handed down to David Leslie Sims, who raped a woman twice after breaking into her home while drunk.

Mr Doyle said he did not blame the judges or the DPP. He said the fault lay with the Government for not giving the judiciary the tools to imprison such offenders.

The Opposition Leader said the Government's recently announced sentencing advisory council, which was supposed to advise the judiciary, should be advising Parliament.

A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Robert Hulls said later the Government opposed the Opposition's minimum sentencing proposals because they were in reality mandatory sentencing.

She said such proposals undermined the independence of the judiciary in determining what sentence was appropriate.