University of Tasmania

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Sword or Feather? The use and utility of suspended sentences in Tasmania

posted on 2023-05-27, 20:40 authored by Lorana BartelsLorana Bartels
This thesis explores the use and utility of suspended sentences in Tasmania. Suspended sentences are currently available as a sentencing disposition in all Australian jurisdictions, but there is conflict between public and legal perceptions about the severity of the sanction, which may contribute to a lack of public confidence in the criminal justice system as a whole. The following issues are explored: How are suspended sentences used by judges and magistrates? What is the process for imposing a suspended sentence? How effective are suspended sentence as a specific deterrent or rehabilitative measure? How are breaches dealt with? The study examines the history of suspended sentences and the arguments for and against their use, as well as considering the principles and practice governing their use in Australia and overseas. In-depth interviews with Tasmanian judges and magistrates provide an invaluable source of information on judicial views on a range of issues pertaining to the use of suspended sentences. A quantitative analysis presents empirical information on the use of suspended sentences in the Supreme and Magistrates' Courts, while a qualitative analysis of sentencing remarks in the Supreme Court examines the relevance of a range of sentencing factors to the decision to suspend. The findings of a reconviction analysis are presented, indicating that suspended sentences may be an effective deterrent. Finally, a breach analysis examines offending conduct in breach of a suspended sentence, explores prosecution practices in respect of breaches and analyses judicial sentencing remarks in breach cases. The conclusion reviews the key findings and discusses how they support the main arguments for and against suspended sentences. The practical and policy implications of my findings are also considered. My research is not only of significance for Tasmania, but also has relevance and resonance for the Australian and international use of suspended sentences and will inform broader discussions about the utility of this sentencing option.


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