Friday, April 3, 2009

Mr. Ackland on the work of The Hon. David Levine Q.C.

Mr. Richard Ackland has an opinion piece in today's Sydney Morning Herald on The Hon. David Levine Q.C., a former barrister and Supreme Court judge who is the Chairman of N.S.W.'s Serious Offenders Review Council (S.O.R.C.), which

has the job of recommending the classification and placement of about 700 of the state's most serious prison inmates. These are people who typically have minimum prison sentences of 12 years.
Mr. Ackland reports that

After three years of SORCing, Levine questions how much good is being done by keeping a lot of prisoners locked up for longer and longer. "I fail to see the purpose that is served by any sentence longer than 20 years." There are some notable exceptions.
Only “some notable exceptions”? The problem is his rule, not the exceptions. Does Mr. Levine seriously think that it is not a fitting rule that murderers, rapists and other criminals of similar notoriety should not in general, as a matter of strict legal justice, serve more than twenty years in gaol? Indeed, for many of these offenders a custodial sentence would be inadequate retribution; in many of these cases the death penalty ought to be imposed.

Next, Mr. Ackland brings up

the case of Andrew Kalajzich, who was convicted in 1988 and sentenced to 28 years for the contract killing of his wife. He still has more than 2½ years before he is eligible for parole. "What is the point of it?" Levine asks. Will the extra years enhance Kalajzich's redemption, rehabilitation or make society safer?
So the offender is a man who has murdered someone—it makes no difference whether the instrument he uses is the murder weapon or a contract killer—and yet Mr. Levine appears to think that Kalajzich should not even serve twenty-eight years in gaol. If we as a society were serious about keeping the scales of justice in balance then Kalajzich should have hanged, yet Mr. Levine—who worked as a jurist, whether judge or barrister, for almost forty years—can see no point in Kalajzich even serving a (manifestly inadequate, but better than a lesser sentence I suppose) full twenty-eight years in gaol. Mr. Ackland asks rhetorically “[w]ill the extra years enhance Kalajzich's redemption, rehabilitation or make society safer?”, but he seems to ignore a fourth—but the most important of all—criterion (or at least, ignores the key aspect of the redemption criterion): the need for the offender to pay in full his debt to society, a debt that requires that he offers adequate satisfaction in retribution for his crime, which was clearly among the most serious of all crimes. The essence of justice is to render to each what he is owed (and clearly Kalajzich owes a good deal more than just twenty-eight years of his life when he has taken life itself away from his own wife) yet this seems not to matter greatly, or even at all, to Mr. Ackland, and whether or not it matters to Mr. Levine it seems that, if indeed it did matter, he thinks that somehow a mere twenty-five or so years for murder is enough to satisfy justice.

Mr. Ackland goes on to say that

Levine's point is that there is a growing proportion of prisoners whose departure from jail should be expedited but under the current punitive penal model, which has always been the case in NSW, there is fat chance of that.
But since reward and punishment are simply justice as applied to the doers of good deeds and bad deeds respectively, it is entirely proper that the justice system’s model should be punitive and penal. Sadly though, it is questionable how widely within the present-day legal fraternity one would find assent to this basic principle of true justice; as I have noted in other posts, the utilitarian, positivist ‘restorative justice’ philosophy is very much in vogue now. Certainly one expects that there would be much in this philosophy with which Mr. Ackland and Mr. Levine, both of whom are fairly high-profile and influential jurists, would agree.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of Our Lady of Compassion, A.D. 2009

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