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Law Lets Offenders Walk

Queensland's beefed-up child pornography laws have allowed the majority of offenders to walk out of court, with only three jailed.
Of the nine men punished under the tough new charge of possessing child exploitation material, none have received sentences anywhere near the maximum five-year jail term introduced a year ago.
The most actual jail time any of the offenders has been required to serve so far has been three months.
The State Government lauded the new legislation and its increased maximum sentence (up from two years under the old legislation) as a powerful deterrent to people who used, and thereby encouraged the creation and marketing of, the obscene images.
It was also designed to challenge the notion that accessing child pornography was a victimless crime pointing out that somewhere a child had to be abused to provide the material being viewed.
Of the nine cases successfully prosecuted in the past year, eight people have been sentenced to jail and all but three of these terms have been wholly suspended.
The ninth offender was sentenced to a community-based order.
Of the three people jailed, one received a 12-month jail term suspended after three months served, another three months' jail with two years' probation.
The latest man convicted Paul Christopher Plunkett, 39 was last week jailed for 18 months to be suspended after he served three months. A conviction was recorded.
None of the sentences has so far been challenged in the Queensland Court of Appeal.
Crown prosecutors routinely ask for actual jail time to be served during their sentencing submissions, and point to the strong stance taken by State Parliament on the issue when arguing their case.
But judges must take into account the nature and number of the images, the degree of obscenity, the age of the children and whether adults are also involved.
They are also obliged to consider the offender's personal circumstances, criminal history and any attempts at rehabilitation in deciding on a sentence.
Queensland Department of Justice figures reveal that as of last week, 87 people had been charged under the new legislation and 10 had had their matters finalised. Two had had their charges dismissed in a magistrate's court.
Experienced criminal lawyer Glen Cranny, of Gilshenan & Luton, warned it was too early to judge the success of the new legislation as sentencing shifts often occurred "incrementally".
"I would say that there is initial signs of a change occurring, but these things always occur in an evolutionary way rather than in a dramatic way," he said.
"The true effect of the laws will only really bite in the coming months and years.
"I think the courts are traditionally reluctant to change the whole approach to a particular offence overnight even though parliament has done that what usually happens is there is a groundswell of public opinion which eventually washes over the courts and changes occur."
Mr Cranny said it was "almost unheard of" for offenders to receive a maximum penalty, as they were reserved for the absolute worst offender.
He also stressed that suspended jail terms remained a tough penalty, as they resulted in an automatic recording of a conviction and acted as a "sword" hanging over the offender's head should they commit another offence during the sentence's operational period.

The Courier Mail (22-5-2006)
Amanda Watt and Leanne Edmistone

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