The appalling Ristevski sentence highlights a real problem in our criminal justice system and serious consideration should be given to amending aspects of our criminal procedure. A person accused of a crime who pleads guilty, is often given the benefit of a reduction in sentence as consideration for his guilty plea. It is dependent upon the court being satisfied of genuine remorse being shown by the accused.
Typically, after the plea of guilty, defence counsel will tell the court how remorseful his client is, that he would never, ever do it again, that he has had a terrible childhood and that he apologises to the victim’s family.
You will note however that other than to say the word “guilty”, the accused himself has said nothing at all and can remain absolutely silent before the judge. The only material upon which the judge can assess the genuineness of the accused’s remorse is what his counsel tells him about it, as the accused himself has not yet said a word for himself.
In order for his guilty plea to be realistically assessed and for it to actually mean something, surely it would be far more sensible for the accused himself to be required to personally demonstrate that he really understands what he has done by giving a full account of it and an explanation of why it is an offence. He should then demonstrate and acknowledge his responsibility for his behaviour and satisfy the judge that he realises how he has hurt others by giving a detailed description of the effects on them. He should personally express his regret and suggest how he intends to make amends to those whom he has hurt. If this is accepted by the judge then the usual practice of providing some discount might then have some justification and make more sense.
Anything less than this, or a simple standard recitation of remorse by his lawyer, is simply indicative of an attempt to wriggle out of the consequences of his actions and shows that what he really regrets is not having committed the offence but having been caught.
Furthermore, if he refuses to tell police how he committed the crime or, in a case involving the killing of another where the body is, then this should automatically disqualify him from any advantage that his plea of guilty might provide him in terms of a reduction in sentence. As an indicator of a lack of true remorse this attitude should be rewarded with an increased penalty.