Three federal Ministers who criticised Victoria’s judiciary for “weak” sentencing have apologised to a Victorian court in an attempt to avoid being charged with contempt.
Commonwealth Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue told the court Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar each apologised unreservedly.
The apology came as two young would-be terrorists at the centre of the ministers’ controversial comments had their sentences increased on Friday.
In a ruling by Victoria’s Court of Appeal, the jail term of Sevdet Besim, who plotted to kill a policeman on Anzac Day in 2015, was increased from 10 years to 14 years.
Under that ruling, the 20-year-old will have to serve at least 10-and-a-half years in jail.
In a separate ruling, a 19-year-old known as MHK was sentenced to 11 years in prison, with a non-parole period of eight years and three months, for planning to carry out a bomb attack in April 2015.
He was originally sentenced to seven years in jail with a five year minimum term.
The original sentences were appealed by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
The cases had been at the centre of criticisms made by Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar about Victorian courts imposing weak sentences on people convicted of terrorism offences.
The three ministers last week withdrew some of the statements they made, but refused to apologise, when they were called before the Court of Appeal to explain why they should not be charged with contempt of court.
‘A case of grave criminality’
In the case of Besim, who had planned to run down and behead a police officer at an Anzac Day march, the sentencing judge had taken the man’s youth and good rehabilitation prospects into account.
But Court of Appeal Chief Justice Marilyn Warren, Justice Stephen Kaye and Justice Mark Weinberg were critical of that approach.
“What was planned was in effect a most brutal and outrageous crime,” a court statement said.
“As this was a case of grave criminality, factors such as rehabilitation and others of a personal nature, including youth, should be given substantially less weight than might be the case in other forms of offending,”
Besim had pleaded guilty to preparing or planning for a terrorist attack — an offence which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Penalties should reflect public outrage: court
In the case of MHK, the Court of Appeal found the sentence to be “wholly inadequate” and characterised the respondent’s moral culpability as “very grave.”
The court found issues with the consideration given to MHK’s age and rehabilitation prospects, and said there was not enough emphasis on general deterrence and denunciation.
“Unless appropriate weight is given to those considerations in a case such as this, the criminal justice system will not have sufficiently discharged its duty to properly express the community’s outrage at the conduct of the respondent,” the court found.
A longer sentence was also necessary “to deter other like-minded individuals from indulging in the same or related conduct”.
In a third appeal case, the Commonwealth DPP failed in its bid to increase the sentence for a Melbourne man who admitted sending money to an American to travel to Syria to fight.
Hassan el Sabsabi, 24, was sentenced to 44 days imprisonment and given a two-year good behaviour bond for sending a $16,000 payment, but the Court of Appeal rejected the prosecution’s argument that the punishment was manifestly inadequate.