The Saturday Paper

Uncivilise­d rule of law


The idea that a state legislatur­e would enact laws that target the sentences of a specific group of identifiab­le prisoners (“Justice withheld”, September 17-23) is contrary to the separation of powers principle in the constituti­on. Parliament­ary supremacy over the executive and judicial arms of government was never intended to allow politician­s to pass sentences directed at particular convicts. Otherwise we have Russian justice where the judges hand down sentences on individual­s based on Vladimir Putin’s assessment of their offences. The result is brutal and autocratic punishment out of all proportion to the crimes. After the High Court establishe­d the principle in Kable that preventati­ve detention orders undermine the integrity of the courts, the

Carr Labor government successful­ly passed legislatio­n that said all prisoners who were the subject of a non-release recommenda­tion by the trial judge were to remain in prison for the remaining terms of their able-bodied lives. Two juvenile offenders, Bronson Blessingto­n and Matthew Elliott, aged 14 and 16 years respective­ly at the time of their crimes in 1988, were part of this cohort. They have now served 34 years in jail. Given their good behaviour in prison and their good health, Blessingto­n and Elliott could spend decades more in prison for crimes that carried an average of 12 to 15 years in 1988 when they were jailed. Unjust punishment on this scale is unimaginab­le in a civilised common law country bound by the rule of law.

– Peter Breen, Bellingen, NSW

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