“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.”