Source: (2009) UNSW Law Research Paper No. 2009-15

The doctrine of proportionality seeks to limit arbitrary and capricious punishment in order to ensure that offenders are punished according to their ‘just desert’. Proportionality goes some way toward achieving this ‘balanced’ approach by requiring a court to consider various and often competing interests in formulating a sentence commensurate with offence seriousness and offender culpability. Modification of sentencing law by the introduction of victim impact statements or the requirement that sentencing courts take explicit account of the harm done to the victim and community has generated debate, however, as to the extent to which offenders may be now subject to unjustified, harsher punishments. This article proposes that in order to overcome the controversy of the modification of offender and victim rights in sentencing, sentencing courts adhere to a doctrine of proportionality which is explicitly sensitive to the needs of victims and offenders in a model of restorative justice that focuses on the consequences of crime as against the individual, rather than the state. The extent to which proportionality, as the current constitutive principle of Australian sentencing law, may be modified to better encourage a dialogue between victim and offender is discussed.

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