Keeping Denyer in prison is not about punishing him, but protecting us

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By legislating to stop serial killer Paul Charles Denyer from applying for parole, the Victorian state government has effectively reinstated the original sentence of trial judge Justice Frank Vincent of life in prison without parole, handed down in 1993.

In doing so, it has gazumped the Court of Appeal that set aside Vincent’s sentence in 1994, replacing it with a maximum of life with a minimum of 30 years.

Serial killer Paul Charles Denyer will remain in prison for the rest of his life.

The Court of Appeal sided with Denyer because he was only 21 years old when he killed Elizabeth Stevens, Deborah Fream and Natalie Russell, and stalked hundreds more.

At the time of overturning the original sentence, one of the judges privately said, “What if they invent a pill that could cure him?”

Well, they haven’t and he isn’t.

In announcing legislation to keep Denyer in prison and make it more difficult for a series of dangerous offenders to seek parole, Premier Jacinta Allan has put a distance between her and her predecessor, Daniel Andrews.

Andrews refused to move on Denyer, claiming he was not comfortable with laws made with one offender in mind. This was disingenuous as his government had done exactly that with Russell Street bomber, Craig Minogue, and Hoddle Street mass killer, Julian Knight.

Denyer applied for parole earlier this year, and the truth is, he did not have the remotest chance of being set free.

A bone lazy prisoner, Denyer had not completed any of the necessary pre-release courses, and so his application was rejected without the need for hearings.

This, of course, was little comfort to the friends and family of Denyer’s three victims. The new law gives them (and us) certainty. He will rot in prison.

To make it clear, there is not one person who has dealt with Denyer in the three decades since he was first imprisoned who thinks he is no longer a danger. And as the system’s priority is to protect the community, he must remain in jail. Keeping him in prison is not about punishing him but protecting us.

That does not alter the fact that retrospective legislation is a dangerous precedent where politicians stray into an area that should be the domain of the courts.

And so we have competing and moral interests. The desire to keep a dangerous offender in prison and the need for courts to be independent. In this case, it is uncomfortable but justified. A little bit like a medical suppository, the process can be a little daunting, is best conducted behind closed doors while the results are usually worth it.

The new laws will also allow the Victorian Parole Board the opportunity to send an applicant away for a set time before being able to apply again. This is entirely satisfactory, as it doesn’t clog the system and gives both the offender and the victim(s) certainty.

For it is a fact that victims and their families live in fear of the day a violent offender is released, and most just wish to be kept in the loop.

Allan’s government is also said to be considering a raft of new police powers to fight organised crime and control the illicit tobacco market. She may be on the brink of becoming a law and order sheriff.

Watch this space.

John Silvester is a columnist and host of the Naked City podcast.

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