Sentencing for criminal offences arising from the death of a child - Final report

Media release

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

A review of child homicide sentencing has found that sentences for manslaughter do not adequately reflect the vulnerability of children, and has recommended a new aggravating factor to be applied by Queensland courts when victims are under 12 years of age.

The recommendation, aimed at increasing current sentencing levels, is one of eight made as part of an extensive 12-month review by the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, as requested by the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Yvette D’Ath.

The Council’s Chair John Robertson said the rigorous evidence-based review had been particularly complex and challenging.

“At the heart of this reference was the question: is sentencing for child homicide adequate, and an appropriate reflection of community views?

“Our final position is that it is not; particularly in those cases involving the direct use of violence against a very young child who is uniquely vulnerable and defenceless,” Mr Robertson said.

The Sentencing for criminal offences arising from the death of a child – Final Report found that adding a new statutory aggravating factor in section 9 of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 was the best approach for reform as it would retain sentencing flexibility while also providing specific guidance about the seriousness of the offence.

Council Chair John Robertson said: “This approach will allow courts to impose a sentence that is just in the individual circumstances of the case, while making clear the expectation that higher sentences should be imposed.”

Other recommendations include:

  • Improving information and support for family members of victims of child homicide including:

-   reviewing the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution’s communication with victims’ families, to ensure they are automatically informed of key decisions in the prosecution process, rather than needing to request information; and

-   reviewing the Queensland Police Service process of allocating Family Liaison Officers to support bereaved families.

  • The timely public release of sentencing remarks for child homicide offences as a strategy to improve public understanding of sentencing.
  • Resources to support courts in responding to the needs and expectations of bereaved family members in sentencing, such as referring to the victim by their name during court proceedings, rather than “the infant”, or “the “deceased.”

The Council also provided general advice that further inquiry – beyond the specific Terms of Reference - is warranted into:

  • Whether any changes are warranted to the Serious Violent Offence scheme, which involves a mandatory non-parole period of 80% of the head sentence for sentences of 10 years or more, considering it is likely that the SVO scheme is driving down head sentences for child manslaughter and other serious offences in Queensland.
  • Whether changes are required to section 13A of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, given its role in public misconceptions about sentencing. (Section 13A allows an offender’s assistance in other court proceedings to be reflected in a lower sentence, but this assistance cannot be publicly disclosed).

The Final Report also identified that while child homicide is on the decline, and children are less likely than adults to be the victim of homicide, they are most at risk in the first year of life.

The 12-month study involved a review of all research relating to child homicide, a comparison of sentencing practices for homicide sentencing across Australia – with a particular focus on all Queensland cases in the past 12 years - and consulting widely with legal stakeholders and the broader community.

Mr Robertson thanked bereaved families who contributed to the consultation process.

“I hope these family members can find some reassurance in the fact that their contributions mattered. Their views ensured that the human impact of these offences was not forgotten.”

Mr Robertson said any actions following the report were now a matter for the government.

“The Council appreciates it will take time for government to work through the Council’s recommendations and for any reforms that are supported to be implemented,” he said.

Media enquiries: Kirsten MacGregor  07 3224 7374