Judge calls for harsher penalties for child killers



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A retired judge has provided a rare glimpse inside how our judiciary thinks as he hands down a landmark review that will result in tougher jail terms.

John Robertson was a District Court judge for 24 years and took A Current Affair’s cameras inside his old courtroom to explain the mindset of how judges hand down sentences.

“No one should ever think that judges don’t feel the human side of sentencing,” he said.

Former District Court judge John Robertson has explained the process in sentencing and why harsher penalties are welcomed. (9news)
“It has a major effect on you.”

Mr Robertson is now chair of the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council which has conducted an exhaustive review of every child homicide case in the state over the past decade.

It found the average sentence for manslaughter of an adult was 8.5 years compared to 6.8 years for a child.

“The vulnerability and defenceless-ness of particularly very young children wasn't being properly taken into account,” Mr Robertson said.

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Queensland accounts for a quarter of all child homicides in Australia - more than Victoria, despite its larger population, but less than New South Wales.

The community has been outraged in recent years after a series of perceived soft sentences for child killers.

Mr Robertson told A Current Affair the vulnerability and defenceless-ness of young children wasn't being considered. (9news)
Toddler Mason Jett Lee was killed by his stepdad William O’Sullivan who did a plea deal for his murder charge to be dropped to manslaughter.

Under the lesser charge, he was given nine years’ jail and can be free on parole after just four years.

His sentence is now being appealed by the Queensland Attorney-General.

“I understand the outrage, sometimes when I read the paper I have a sense of outrage myself,” Mr Robertson said.

“But I know there's another side to the story.”

Toddler Mason Jett Lee was killed by his stepfather, who had his sentence reduced when he agreed to a plea deal. (9news)
The Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council report delivered eight recommendations including making the killing of a child under 12 an ‘aggravating’ feature of manslaughter which should result in longer jail terms.

Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said her government would adopt all eight recommendations.

She also announced the government would widen the definition of murder, where it included a reckless indifference to human life.

“You won't have to prove intention to kill you'll just have to show that they've had reckless indifference for that human life and there was a probability that that child would die,” Ms D’Ath said.

Queensland’s State Opposition is calling for mandatory minimum jail terms of 15 years for child manslaughter and 25 years for the murder of a child.

John Robertson says mandatory sentencing would lead to “gross unfairness” in the tragic cases of loving parents who’s one mistake costs their child’s life.

For the amount of children killed each year, judges often cop a lot of flack over the sentences they deliver. (9news)
Brett Thomson from the Queensland Homicide Victims’ Support Group agrees that mandatory jail terms won’t work for child manslaughter.

“People will make horrible mistakes, completely unintentional and they will pay for that internally for the rest of their lives,” Mr Thomson said.

“We're not talking about those people, we're talking about the people who are abusing their children, who are impacting harm, who are killing the children and then being able to slip away,” he said.

He supports the recommended changes to sentencing for child killers and says it confirms that “soft sentencing” was not a myth.

“You don't need to be educated to work out what is fair,” he said.

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