If you must get caught make sure you pick the right court, study finds
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If you must get caught make sure you pick the right court, study finds

Researchers have found a "concerning level of inconsistency" in the sentences handed down by Victorian courts for driving offences, with drivers facing justice in Melbourne much less likely to be jailed than those who appear in Ballarat.

Researchers from Deakin University’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences and Swinburne University found a ‘‘concerning degree’’ of difference in the sentences meted out for driving offenders between Ballarat, Melbourne, Portland and Sale courts.

Melbourne drivers are less likely to be jailed for driving offences.

Melbourne drivers are less likely to be jailed for driving offences. Credit:Paul Rovere

Offenders in Ballarat are three times more likely to be imprisoned for the same offence as those sentenced in Portland, twice as likely as those sentenced in Melbourne and more than 50 per cent higher than in Sale.

Deakin criminologist and lead researcher, Dr Clare Farmer said she and her colleagues analysed almost 12,000 sentencing outcomes for Victorians convicted for driving while disqualified, suspended, or with a cancelled licence, over the period from July 1, 2011 to June 30,  2015.

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Dr Farmer said there was a wide spread of sentences given for the same offence across the four courts, with Ballarat’s imprisonment rates for driving offenders three times higher than Portland, double the rate of Melbourne, and more than 50 per cent higher than Sale.

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In the study period, 9934 driving offences were sentenced in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, followed by 1562 in Ballarat courts, 340 in Sale and 116 in Portland.

The results showed that in Ballarat there was imposed jail time in 20.6 per cent of sentences, followed by Sale at 12.9 per cent, Melbourne 9.8 per cent and Portland 6.9 per cent.

The sentencing jail time (in months) was:

  • 0.47-28 months in Ballarat
  • 0.1-54 in Melbourne
  • 0.47-6 months  in Portland.
  • 0.47-18 months in Sale.

‘‘An offender’s likelihood of being imprisoned should not be affected by the court in which they happen to be sentenced,’’ Dr Farmer said, ‘‘and yet this study has found a notable degree of inconsistency.’’

The current study is part of a broader project that compared the sentencing outcomes for three of the most common criminal charges: theft, unlawful assault and driving while disqualified or suspended.

Dr Farmer said findings of the overall project added weight to concern that the sentencing decision-making process in Victoria lacks transparency and consistency.

‘‘Sentencing inconsistences were found in all three studies,’’ she said.

‘‘The next step is trying to analyse why we found these differences, what is the underlying cause?’

‘‘It could be completely innocent; it could be that people who are coming before the courts in Ballarat quite rightly and properly are offenders for whom imprisonment is appropriate more often than the other locations but we need to establish, in more detail, the reasons behind this inconsistency.’

‘‘It is not about criticising the magistrates. It is about closer scrutiny and more visibility.’’

The Courier