QNADA’s response to the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council (QSAC) Issues Paper

Tom Ogwang

In January QNADA submitted a response to the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council (QSAC) Issues Paper, The ‘80 per cent rule’: The serious violent offences scheme in the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (2021). Below is a brief overview of the submission, however if you’d like to read it in its entirety it can be downloaded here: https://www.sentencingcouncil.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/708619/9.-qnada-submission.pdf

QNADA notes the serious violent offences (SVO) scheme, as it is currently applied, is not targeting the right types of offences or people who offend. There is a disproportionate number of people convicted for serious drug offences who are subject to the provisions of the SVO scheme, and we support the position outlined within the Issues paper and by other stakeholders that serious drug offences should be completely removed from the scheme.

When considering the SVO scheme it is important to note that there is no direct causal relationship between alcohol and other drug (AOD) use and violence perpetration. This relationship is complex, and while most people in contact with the criminal justice system may use AOD in some form, contact is not always related to their substance use. With respect to offending behaviour, contact may be for AOD related offences such as possession or supply, or other offences where AOD use is a presenting or underlying issue. This pattern is similarly represented in the cases outlined in QSAC’s Analysis of sentencing and parole outcomes (2021) and Sentencing Spotlight on…trafficking in dangerous drugs (2018), which shows the vast majority of trafficking offences are associated with other drug, property and traffic offences, with relatively few associated with any violent offending. People convicted for trafficking in dangerous drugs are also less likely to have prior sentences of imprisonment than most other offence categories.

The inclusion of drug offences within the SVO scheme is arguably inconsistent with community expectations and current evidence. It also acts to perpetuate stigma and discrimination in relation to illicit drug use. Broadly speaking, evidence based training and guidance for judicial officers about AOD use in the community would be beneficial in enhancing understanding of how, why, and when people who use drugs come before the court for AOD related offending. For example, global research indicates that 88-89% of people who use illicit drugs do not experience dependence or require a treatment intervention, which means that for many people who use illicit drugs, the risk of harm to both themselves and community productivity is increased primarily as a consequence of involvement in the justice system, not the substance use.

The distinction for the SVO scheme between sentences at or above ten years and below ten years should be removed. The automatic application of the scheme for sentences over ten years appears to be a primary driver for the inclusion of people convicted for trafficking offences; who would correspondingly benefit most from longer parole periods (particularly for those experiencing problematic substance use) and generally have a lower risk profile than other offences captured by the scheme.

The International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy (2019) recognise that responding to the harms associated with drug use and the illicit drug trade is one of the greatest social policy challenges of our time, and that all aspects of this challenge have human rights implications. Within the context of the scheme, consideration should be given to ensuring compatibility with the intent of the International Guidelines.

Posted to QNADAfocus on Tue 2 2022