EDITORIAL TUESDAY 03.03.09.
The perception that judges are handing out lenient sentences has been given further impetus by the decision to give a suspended two year sentence to a man convicted of raping a four your old girl. At this point, very few details have been made public, other than the sentence and the fact that the 24 year old man pled guilty to the charge in relation to an event in South Grafton on 22 November, 2007. He had broken into the girl’s grandmother’s house, and assaulted her as she was sleeping.
A suspended sentence would normally by imposed where there are some sort of mitigating circumstances in cases of lesser severity. The problem of course is that it is impossible to imagine any sort of mitigating circumstances which would lessen the seriousness of a crime so revoltingly outrageous as raping a four year old. Even if there is some question of the perpetrator possibly having some sort of mental impairment diminishing his responsibility, surely his behavior would require his separation from the community.
The maximum penalty for the charge is 25 years in jail. Instead, after 14 months in remand, he has been allowed to walk free. One can only imagine the horror of the girl’s family, or the fear that might pervade other families in the community who could justifiably ask “what if he comes after my daughter?” If there is a justification for such a light sentence I have yet to hear it.
Both the Attorney General and the Shadow Attorney General have called upon the Director of Public Prosecutions to examine the merits of an appeal. The D. P. P. has yet to see the transcript of the judgment, so it remains to be seen what the reaction will be from that department. But it would appear that this judgment is so far out of line with community expectations that action must be taken.
Either there is a legitimate legal explanation for the lenient sentence, or the judge got it wrong. If the former is the case, it would call into question whether or not the law is adequate, given the seriousness of the crime. On the other hand, if the judge got it wrong, an appeal must be launched so that the court has the opportunity to correct the error. The question would also be prompted as to whether the judge may have erred in any other cases. If there is any other explanation, it is unlikely to satisfy the concerns of the community.
Either way, allowing a child rapist to go free does nothing to inspire confidence in the justice system.