Australian Federal Police Association says prison sentence for man who killed Sue Salthouse fails to meet community expectations

The Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) says the community has been disappointed by the prison sentence for the man who killed disability advocate Sue Salthouse.

Ms Salthouse died in hospital after being hit by a ute while riding her wheelchair-accessible motorbike in July 2020.

Mitchell Laidlaw, 35, pleaded guilty to guilty driving causing death in March, as his trial was due to begin.

Laidlaw was sentenced yesterday to two years and three months in prison, but the sentence will be suspended after three months.

Speaking to ABC Radio Canberra, AFPA chairman Alex Caruana said the sentence fell short of community expectations.

“The offender failed to show up for many correctional appointments and was again offended on bail, but the Chief Justice slapped him with three months in jail. How is that fair and how is that does it meet the expectations of the community?” He asked.

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AFPA President Alex Caruana said the ACT community deserves an explanation for what he calls lenient sentences.

He said it was unfair to victims that some perpetrators did not spend more time in jail.

“Three months from now, this person will be able to return to spend time with their family and loved ones, but the Salthouse family has lost a loved one,” he said.

“And not just family; the community has lost a pillar for that community. Let’s not forget that Ms. Salthouse was ACT Senior Citizen of the year.”

Mr. Caruana added that the ACT had higher than average bail violations than in other states and territories.

“We’re on average in Canberra around 80 bail breaches a month… So that’s two a day,” he said.

“In other states, they’re sitting around half that, or a little less, depending on the state and territories. In some cases, a lot less. That’s just not good enough.”

He said he wanted ACT Attorney General Shane Rattenbury to review laws relating to sentencing and bail conditions.

“Bill Stefaniac, when he was attorney general for the ACT, he made tougher laws. He made it so that if somebody was already in court, your right to bail wouldn’t get to you withdrawn immediately, but there was no immediate response to the presumption of bail, so we have to see something like that happen again,” he said.

Mr Caruana said he wanted a review to analyze the situation, but said he was happy to be wrong.

“If that’s the case, I’ll just step away from my soapbox and leave the minister alone,” he said.

“I certainly think there is enough evidence to indicate that there is a very clear problem and that the community expects more from these repeat offenders and the community expects more from the justice system.”

Attorney General Says Bail Laws Are Being Reviewed

A man wearing a green tie smiles at the camera
ACT Attorney General Shane Rattenbury said he was sure Canberrans would be “extremely critical” if he “started telling judges and magistrates what decisions to make”.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty )

ACT Attorney General Shane Rattenbury said bail and sentencing laws were currently being reviewed but in the meantime he could not intervene in court decisions.

“While the police union has every right to criticize the judiciary, having an independent judiciary is a fundamental tenet of our system of Australian society, and it ensures that decisions are made impartially and apolitically” , said Mr. Rattenbury.

“I’m sure people would be extremely critical if I started telling judges and magistrates what decisions to make in criminal matters.

“Nevertheless, as the ACT Government regularly does, we are currently reviewing the relevant bail and sentencing laws and related data to determine whether any reforms can be made, particularly with respect to the recidivism and traffic offences.”

He also said a “heavy-duty approach to incarceration” was not the answer.

“While incarceration is sometimes a necessary and legitimate sentence, community safety is not enhanced by an authoritarian approach to incarceration,” he said.

“Evidence shows that it can exacerbate social dysfunction and disadvantage, isolate a person from the community and contribute to continued delinquency.”

Australian Law Society criminal law committee deputy chairman Paul Edmonds told ABC Radio Canberra he did not believe another review of the sentencing laws was necessary.

“The position of the ACT Law Society is that there is currently no urgent need to review the sentencing regime in the ACT,” he said.

“In very simple terms…to use an old adage; if the system ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said.

“The Law Society is of the view that currently in the ACT the sentencing regime strikes an appropriate balance between these two competing requirements of deterrence, or strict punishment, on the one hand, and rehabilitation of offenders , on the other hand.”

Andrew B. Reiter