Court/Judicial body: Supreme Court of Western Australia
Citation:  WASCA 247
Date: 21 August 2001
Instrument(s) cited: Criminal Code: Sections 19, 282(c) (Section 19 was repealed in 1995) Children’s Court of Western Australia Act 1988: Section 19 Young Offenders Act 1994: Section 50 Child Welfare Act 1947 (This legislation was repealed in 2004)
Background: The appellant was convicted of willful murder after pleading guilty and sentenced to life in prison in relation to acts committed when he was 15 years old. There were four available options to the sentencing judge: (i) strict security life imprisonment, (ii) life imprisonment, (iii) an order that the applicant be detained in strict custody until the Governor’s pleasure was known or (iv) a sentence of imprisonment for a shorter term, pursuant to Section 19 of the Criminal Code. The sentencing judge ordered a life sentence with eligibility for parole after a minimum of 12 years. An appeal against that sentence was made in the present case to the Supreme Court of Western Australia.
Issue and resolution: Life imprisonment of young offenders. Whether the sentencing judge’s order of a life sentence was excessive in relation to sentences given to other children and whether he had erred by not sufficiently taking into consideration applicant’s youth, rehabilitative prospects, and guilty plea, among other factors, in deciding the sentence. The Supreme Court of Western Australia decided that the sentencing Judge did not err and dismissed the appeal.
Court reasoning: First, the Court agreed that this case was distinguishable from previous cases where finite sentences were given, because the applicant’s acts were premeditated and he was older and more mature than the offenders in the other cases. Second, the Court followed the reasoning in a prior case, which held that it is not necessary for a judge to give a full or detailed reason for their sentence and, furthermore, even though imprisonment is a sentence of last resort it is not necessary for a judge to name all of the possible alternatives and the reasons for rejecting them. In this case, the fact that the sentencing judge did not specifically address why he decided not to give a finite sentence does not mean that he did not consider that option. Similarly, the fact that the sentencing Judge did not go into more detail on the principles applicable to the sentencing of youths, did not mean that he overlooked those principles and the fact that he did not directly address applicant’s rehabilitative prospects did not mean that he did not consider them when making his decision. Third, the Court found that the sentencing judge had clearly taken into account the applicant’s youth and his plea of guilty before ordering the life sentence. His opinion stated that he had listened carefully to the arguments on the applicant’s behalf, “principally as to your age, your history and your plea of guilty…”. The Court also reasoned that the fact that the sentencing judge did not give the applicant strict security life imprisonment, which is the sentence that would have been given to an adult, indicates that the judge clearly considered the applicant’s age. The Court also disregarded applicant’s argument that the sentencing judge had not taken into account the applicant’s plea of guilty and found that the fact that a specific discount cannot be taken from a life sentence does not indicate that the plea of guilty was not taken into account in deciding the sentence.
Link to full judgement: https://jade.barnet.com.au/Jade.html#!article=142254