Databank 'not enough for justice'
Canberra needs a council of justice experts to act as a bridge between the criminal justice system and the general public, an academic says.
But the ACT Government says a sentencing council is not on the agenda. Next year the government will unveil a $2.2 million database which monitors sentencing trends so the legal community can access up-to-date information.
But University of Canberra senior lecturer Dr Lorana Bartels says it is a missed opportunity to provide the taxpayer with ''bang for its sentencing buck''.
Dr Bartels said developing a database without a council to interpret the information was '' a missed opportunity''.
Sentencing councils work by educating and engaging with the public by researching, disseminating, interpreting, educating and gauging public opinion on verdicts reached by the courts.
The Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council is regarded as the leading body in Australia, with 65,000 visitors to its website in 2011-12.
As well as monitoring trends and providing up-to-date information, sentencing databases aim to make sentences more consistent and less open to appeal, increasing the efficiency of the courts.
An ACT council appeared likely when the Stanhope government made a $633,000 election promise in 2008 to create a council to gather evidence on sentencing in the ACT.
But the government then allocated $2.2 million for the database at the June budget after an ACT Law Reform Advisory Council report found it nearly impossible to measure the effectiveness of suspended sentences because of the lack of data in the Supreme Court system.
ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said establishing a database was the priority.
''The database will improve the quality, availability and access to sentencing statistics and information, case summaries and judgments,'' Mr Corbell said.
''The availability of reliable and comprehensive sentencing data is a necessary first step before further consideration is given to the possible establishment of a sentencing council.''
Mr Corbell said the database would be available to both criminal justice stakeholders and the community.
He said no decision had been made on whether an annual subscription fee would be charged.
But Dr Bartels said the data would be hard to interpret for many in the community.
''Although the proposed sentencing database is a welcome addition to the ACT sentencing landscape, and will doubtless answer many questions for judicial officers and policymakers about sentencing practice, it is arguably an incomplete response,'' Ms Bartels said.
''Sentencing councils have a critical role to play as a bridge between the criminal justice system and the general public. The ACT public deserves both accessible data and a council which can disseminate this information.''