The Victorian Bar and the Criminal Bar Association of Victoria are opposed to the recent changes to the parole regime in Victoria. They impose specific controls on the discretion of the Adult Parole Board, an independent statutory body, in order to target a single individual.
When Paul Denyer was sentenced for his horrific crimes in 1994 by the Court of Appeal, Justice Crockett, one of the most eminent jurists in Victoria’s history, said in setting a non-parole period: “It may be that skilled and reliably informed professional judgment will operate against the applicant's release. In such a case the Parole Board can be expected not to allow his release - assuming that it was otherwise empowered to do so. The reaching of a decision on such a matter is the Board's statutory function and responsibility.”
In ruling in that way, the Victorian Court of Appeal was doing no more than setting a date after which the Adult Parole Board would have a duty to consider Denyer’s possible release, on evidence available to it. The Adult Parole Board would have a duty to refuse that application if, in its professional and skilled judgement, it would be required to do so.
When those words were said to Paul Denyer he was 22. He has been serving his sentence for thirty years, in the expectation that at an independent statutory body would at least consider his possible release at the expiration of the non-parole period, carefully considered by the Court of Appeal, irrespective of whether or not it would ever be granted.
Sentencing judges have a duty to set a non-parole period, if in the exercise of their discretion it is appropriate to do so. When that non-parole period expires the Adult Parole Board has a duty to act appropriately to consider whether or not the prisoner should be granted parole. If it grants parole, the authorities have the capacity to tightly control the conditions and circumstances of that release, including under the potentially very onerous conditions of Supervision Orders.
The Executive appoints independent judicial officers to undertake the work of sentencing, because it is inappropriate for the Government to determine the sentences to impose on individuals. The Executive appoints independent statutory officers to the Adult Parole Board because it is inappropriate for the Government to determine whether applications for release on parole should be refused or granted.
The reforms deliberately undermine the independence of sentencing judges and members of the Adult Parole Board, and undermine their ‘skilled and reliably informed professional judgement’. The Executive arm of Government should not create legislation targeting single individuals, undermining the responsibility the community places in independent judicial and statutory officers.