Sloppy Journalism

“Loophole gets criminals off” led the SMH earlier today in respect to no-conviction-recorded sentences (known as Section 10 orders).

On one hand the Sydney Morning Herald (sensibly) decries the Law & Order auction, and then on the other comes up with such ridiculous headlines.

Whilst I do not dispute the potential of the Section 10 orders being overused, they are a fundamental part of our criminal justice system, and an important check & balance on the power of the state. To call something so integral to the courts a ‘loophole’ – as if the guilty are getting off scot-free on some technicality – is just mind-boggling.

Granted, it’s probably the fault of an ignorant sub-editor, but still, this headline is just sloppy journalism and precisely what encourages the simplistic hysteria that is the NSW Law & Order Auction.

Update: There have been a number of letters to the editor of the SMH published today,  including from my former boss, which I shall quote here:

“The hysterical headline “Loophole gets one in six off the hook” (January 13) misleads the reader about the effect of section 10. That section may save a defendant from a criminal conviction for a good reason. A conviction for lower-level offences can have a disproportionate effect on a life.

There is a public benefit in allowing a magistrate to place a miscreant under the pressure of a good-behaviour bond. A year or more under the sword of Damocles can do far more to deter offending than a conviction and fine. Reoffend while on a good behaviour bond and you may deserve a conviction and penalty. Deterrence and rehabilitation are both facilitated by section 10.

After 20 years as a defence lawyer, I know a section 10 is not that easy to get. The circumstances of an offence and the life history of a defendant can cry out for something better than a hardline approach. Listing the outcome of celebrity cases tells us little about the successes of section 10.

I will give the Herald a section 10 and hope for rehabilitation.”

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4 Responses to “Sloppy Journalism”

  1. Stuart Says:

    I had exactly the same thought…It’s not exactly a loophole. It’s a provision in the act for a judge or magistrate to use his or discretion. Bless the state opposition for their commitment to ending the Law & Order auction, though.

  2. Tim Says:

    Indeed, it’s great to have a Shadow Attorney-General who actually understands the judicial process and the folly of politicians trying to outbid each other on who can be ‘tougher’.

  3. Alex Says:

    As the author of the letter quoted above I say ten steps forward by the Shadow-Attorney General for his thoughtful contribution to ending the law and order – shame about the couple of steps back in the political response to the Sydney Morning Herald beat up discussed above.

  4. Natalie Says:

    If people are so concerned about the so-called ‘loophole’ of Section 10, then they do not have much faith in the judiciary. And if this is the case whereby the public are so concerned with such discretionary powers being enforced by judges, the courts should adopt guideline sentencing in a more rigorous manner, a policy that is also supported by Chief Justice Spiegelman.

    When I read this article, it was reminiscent of a piece from the Daily Telegraph, not the Herald. My, how the press have changed.

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