Ralph and Kathy Kelly

Champions of change: Parents of Thomas Kelly, Ralph and Kathy want tougher penalties for crimes committed while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Photo: Nick Moir

The Attorney-General has shown tentative support for sentencing reforms proposed by the family of king hit victim Thomas Kelly despite a former Director of Public Prosecutions' doubts over the suggested changes.

Leading Sydney barrister Alexander Street, SC, helped Ralph and Kathy Kelly put together a proposal to the state government to increase the penalties for any crime committed while affected by alcohol or drugs.

Attorney-General Greg Smith met with Mr Street and the Kellys in December and was ''very cooperative and enthusiastic and supportive of the Kellys and their objectives and been more than willing to listen to and take on board our suggestions for reforms,'' Mr Street said.

NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith

On side: NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith is said to have shown 'tentative support' for sentencing reforms. Photo: Jacky Ghossein

Even if the reforms were not adopted, Mr Street said he was certain judges would give greater weight to an offenders' intoxication in future sentences because of the debate surrounding alcohol-fuelled violence.

''I've been in law for 30 years and this is not a knee-jerk suggestion for reform,'' he said. ''This is a very carefully thought-out strategy to advance fundamental social change. It's not a panacea but it's a significant step.''

However, former Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery said the Kellys' proposal was misguided.

"Kelly's proposal was misguided": Former DPP Nicholas Cowdery.

"Kelly's proposal was misguided": Former DPP Nicholas Cowdery. Photo: Brendan Esposito

The plan proposes to make intoxication, a victim's age and their inability to defend themselves ''mandatory aggravating factors'' that must be taken into account by a judge when sentencing an offender.

Mr Cowdery said intoxication is used as a defence in some circumstances.

''The problem with general proposals of this sort formulated in response to particular situations is that they need to be thought through carefully,'' he said.

''When you start mucking around with the law you have got to take into account how it would operate in all sorts of situations.''

Spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance Greg Barnes said there was no evidence that harsher sentences would deter would-be offenders.

''When people commit an offence they're not thinking rationally, these blokes couldn't care less about sentences,'' he said. ''I've never seen any evidence to suggest jail is an effective form of deterrence or reduces crime. It's a way for society to warehouse people.''

Mr Street said there was ''massive'' public support for tougher sentences for alcohol-fuelled crime and said questions over its role as a deterrent were ''ill-informed''. ''Yes, people will continue to commit crimes [and] we can't have sentences that are disproportionate but we can have sentences that reflect community values and standards,'' he said.

Signatures on the Kellys' change.org petition have quadrupled since last Thursday to 115,000.

Acting Justice Minister Michael Gallacher said Attorney-General Greg Smith ''is currently considering their proposals in relation to the circumstances in which alcohol is an aggravating factor on sentence".

Mr Cowdery is a member of the council reviewing the NSW Sentencing Act and said the issues raised by the Kellys would be incorporated. However, he cautioned that the public had a ''simplistic views of how it all works''.

Research has shown that when real cases are put to ordinary people and they receive all of the information, they usually fix a sentence lower than the judge.

''The difference is they are informed,'' he said.