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Judgment summary - Harrison and Rigogiannis v The Queen

16 December 2015

Summary of Judgment
Harrison and Rigogiannis v The Queen (External link)
[2015] VSCA 349 (External link)

The Court of Appeal today said that higher sentences were required in cases where grossly negligent driving causes serious injuries

The Court dismissed two appeals by offenders against sentence for offences of this kind. Each offender

drove with a very high degree of negligence, with a blood alcohol reading greatly in excess of the legal limit and at a speed that far exceeded the applicable limit.  [Their] conduct involved a grave departure from the standard of care required of a driver.  The victims in each case suffered extensive and profoundly serious injuries.

The Court found that sentences for serious instances of this offence had not reflected Parliament’s increase in the maximum penalty to 10 years’ imprisonment in 2008. That increase

was intended — and expected — to lead to a corresponding increase in the sentences actually imposed.  As the [cases] show, however, the sentences have remained within a relatively narrow band.

In the Court’s view, current sentencing practice does not reflect the seriousness with which such offences must be viewed. It said:

The sentences imposed … are not commensurate with the objective gravity of the offences, as informed by the degree of negligence involved and the consequences for victims.

One offender was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, the other to three and a half years’ imprisonment. The Court rejected their contentions that their sentences were manifestly excessive.  

Noting that sentencing judges felt obliged to follow current sentencing practice, the Court said that much higher sentences for negligently causing serious injury by driving were called for:

By way of general guidance, had the sentencing courts in the present cases not been constrained by [current sentencing], we consider that sentences of six or seven years would have been well within range, given the seriousness of the offending.

Sentencing courts should no longer consider themselves constrained by existing sentencing practice for offences of [this kind] which fall within the upper range of seriousness (as exemplified by the cases under appeal).  

The Court said:

As was explained in Ashdown, it will be necessary for this Court to provide guidance to sentencing courts where inadequate sentencing practice has become so established that sentencing courts are reluctant to depart from that practice. As Redlich JA concluded in Ashdown:

[T]he expression of such an opinion is part of the court’s overarching responsibility to ensure that sentencing standards are maintained and to provide guidance as to the correct approach to sentencing for a particular offence or category of that offence.

NOTE: This summary is necessarily incomplete. It is not intended as a substitute for the Court’s reasons or to be used in any later consideration of the Court’s reasons. The only authoritative pronouncement of the Court’s reasons and conclusions is that contained in the published reasons for judgment.

Read the full judgment on AustLII (External link)

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Author: Supreme Court of Victoria
Publisher: Supreme Court of Victoria
Date of Publication: December 2015
Copyright: Supreme Court of Victoria, 2015


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