The consensus of experts is that mandatory sentencing doesn’t work. Legal practitioners know it. Researchers know it. Court administrators know it. It’s likely that at least some politicians know it, too. Yet the prospect of broader mandatory sentencing provisions in NSW loom large, driven by media outrage around alcohol-fuelled violence. So, what is the mandatory sentencing scheme proposed by the Government? What is its current status, what’s wrong with it, and what would it mean if it passed?
First, let us all agree that violence should be prevented. Second, let us also agree that, in spite of its popularity, alcohol is a vice. Alcohol has been the downfall of many, not the least of whom is the former Premier, Barry O’Farrell. When you have alcohol, violence is often not far away. Nothing – not a single word in this article – should be taken to suggest that it is not worthwhile to try and stop young, drunken men from bashing, stabbing and killing one another over spilled drinks, perceived “disrespect” or, frequently, nothing at all. The questions about what to do about those problems are not simple, and this short article should not be thought to be a substitute for a full and frank debate about it. But that is not the same as accepting that draconian sentencing schemes will work.