New Gympie Magistrate Chris Callaghan.
New Gympie Magistrate Chris Callaghan. Renee Albrecht

Magistrate: Why jail time is not the best answer

"MISOGYNY," said Gympie's new magistrate Chris Callaghan.

He was talking about the media.

Coverage of women in the judiciary is often unfair, said the man whose job as magistrates regional co-ordinator also involves keeping the justice system running from Hervey Bay to Caboolture and west to Kingaroy.

So is mandatory sentencing, with legislated minimum punishments and licence disqualifications, sometimes for minor offences.

As president of the Magistrates Association, he says a lot of his colleagues, in particular female colleagues, have been unfairly castigated by the media, with "a populist view that magistrates are soft, but we're not".

"I and my colleagues send people to jail regularly when the situation requires it, but at the end of the day, our job is to protect the community.

"And sometimes the community is better off if a person doesn't go to jail.

"For instance if they've got a job, they're doing well and you can tell they're stable and making progress and contributing to the community.

"Do I want to send them to jail, pull them out of the job and then ultimately return them to society, desperate for money, idle and depressed?

"You can lock someone up and that works to protect the community as long as they're in jail. What happens when they're released? Yes some may be deterred from committing that crime in the future but in my experience a great many criminals don't consider the consequences.

"You can also make orders that will underpin some rehabilitation, parole for example, but that only lasts until the sentence is finished.

"Suspended sentences can last longer. In some cases the threat of jail hanging over a person's head is more effective in deterring the criminally minded."

Mandatory sentencing is part of what he calls a "tough on crime auction" that over-simplifies the issues. "You can't have 'one size fits all'," he says.

Some penalties, including jail and even mandatory loss of a driver's licence, can have devastating consequences. "It's different in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, where people can take public transport. But how is a farm worker going to get to work without a licence?

"Someone moves house, doesn't get their mail and misses a payment on their SPER account, they can lose their licence." And in the regions, he says that often means they lose their jobs, hurting the whole community.

Mr Callaghan transferred here from the Gold Coast, where he was regional co-ordinator of South Coast courts.

Now he does the same thing in the North Coast region, helping to keep the court system operating from Hervey Bay and Maryborough to Caboolture and west to Kingaroy.

As part of an early wave of magistrates appointed from outside the public service, he says the reforms that allowed lawyers from private practice to become magistrates have added to diversity on the bench.

To keep that up and to deliver justice fairly and efficiently, it is important the courts have a working relationship with the police, especially with prosecution officers, to keep cases flowing through.

"But that's where the relationship must end. We get a lot of work done and get a lot of co-operation from prosecutors, as we also do from the duty lawyers who also do an excellent job for their clients in the limited time they have with them."

Mr Callaghan came from private practice as a criminal defence lawyer, defending some serious criminals. He was admitted in 1980 to practice as a solicitor on the Sunshine Coast. He went to the Bar in Brisbane in 1991 until 1995 and was a solicitor/advocate primarily in the criminal courts until his appointment as a Magistrate in 2007.

In addition to sitting on the Gympie courtroom bench, Mr Callaghan is in charge of keeping the wheels of the law turning over a huge regional area.

In fact, he runs the show when it comes to justice from Hervey Bay and Maryborough to Caloundra and west to Kingaroy, administering a system that handles 3500 matters a year, or about 70 cases a week.

Gympie Times

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