Council makes 26 recommendations to reform serious violent offences scheme
The Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council’s review of the serious violent offences (SVO) scheme has found the state’s scheme is not fully meeting its objectives and has made 26 recommendations to the Attorney-General.
The ‘80 per cent Rule’ - The Serious Violent Offences scheme in the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) final report recommends changing the scheme to apply presumptively to certain serious offences sentenced to over 5 years’ imprisonment.
Retired judge and Council Chair John Robertson said that sentencing data showed that there were only a small number of discretionary declarations being made for sentences of less than 10-years under the current SVO scheme.
“Victims of serious offences told us that, when a discretionary declaration is not made in these circumstances, it can profoundly decrease their satisfaction with the sentencing outcome,” Mr Robertson said.
“Under a presumptive approach, a court must make a declaration unless it finds that it would not be in the interests of justice to do so.
“This acknowledges the serious harm these offences cause to victims, survivors and their families and will likely result in more declarations being made for sentences under 10 years.”
The scheme’s current 80 per cent fixed non-parole period also raised significant concerns about the short period of time serious violent offenders spend supervised on parole and the number of offenders who do not apply for parole at all.
Under the Council’s proposed reforms, the judge would be able to consider individual circumstances to decide where to set parole eligibility within a set range of 50–80 per cent.
“The majority of the offenders who are convicted of an offence with an SVO declaration will eventually be released from prison,” Mr Robertson said.
“Evidence suggests serious offenders who have served long sentences need more, rather than less time supervised on parole in the community to reduce their risks of reoffending.”
Other key recommendations the Council put forward in its final report include:
- Creating a new and separate schedule of offences that would be subject to the scheme. The Council recommends including offences related to child exploitation material, choking, suffocation or strangulation in a domestic setting, and female genital mutilation. Other, less serious offences should be removed from the new scheme.
- Keeping serious drug offences sentenced to 10-years and more in the scheme to recognise the serious harm these offences cause to the community. This threshold is higher than the 5-year threshold for offences involving sexual violence and non-sexual violence to recognise differences in the risk these offenders pose to the community.
- Changing the name to the ‘serious offences scheme’ to better reflect that not all serious offences included in the scheme are violent, for instance serious drug offences.
The Council’s comprehensive review of the SVO scheme included a literature review, extensive data analysis, a review of case law and sentencing remarks, and a cross jurisdictional analysis.
The Council also interviewed subject-matter experts and consulted extensively with a range of organisations and individuals, including victims of crime.
Mr Robertson said while the review was complex and challenging, the recommendations outlined in the report will allow the scheme to better meet its intended purposes.
“At the heart of this reference were three key questions: does the serious violent offences scheme appropriately recognise the seriousness of these offences, is it applied only in appropriate cases and is it working to protect the community?
“After careful consideration of all the evidence, data and feedback, we are confident that our recommendations will reform the scheme to better serve the interests of justice and the community.”
Project sponsor and Council member Dan Rogers thanked victims and their support organisations for their invaluable contribution to this review.
“We value the time and courage it took for many of you to share your stories, telling us what you thought about the scheme, what you feel is currently working, and how the scheme could be improved,” Mr Rogers said.
“We are also indebted to legal professionals, government organisations and other valued stakeholders for lending us their time and expertise by participating in expert interviews, taking part in consultation sessions and making written submissions.”
- View the Terms of Reference outlining the matters the Council was asked to consider.
- Read the Council’s Final Report, with a full list of recommendations and detailed analysis of the scheme and its application.
- The serious violent offences (SVO) scheme operates under the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 and applies to offenders who have been sentenced for a range of serious offences.
- The SVO scheme was introduced in 1997 to respond to concerns about community safety and serious violent offences.
- Under the current scheme, a SVO declaration is mandatory for listed offences that are sentenced to 10 years or more. A discretionary declaration can be given for listed offences sentences to between 5- and 10-years’ imprisonment.
- In a 9-year period, there were 437 cases sentenced with a serious violent offence declaration in Queensland.
- 318 of these cases were mandatory declarations for sentences of over 10 years.
- 119 of these cases were discretionary declarations for sentences between 5 and 10 years.
- Currently, once a person is declared to be convicted of an SVO, they are not eligible to apply for parole until they have served the lesser of either 80 per cent of their sentence or 15 years imprisonment.