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Abstract

The recent decision of the High Court in Cameron v The Queen provides a timely opportunity to re-examine the precise rationales behind the policy observed in all Australian criminal courts (whether exercising State or Commonwealth jurisdiction) of ‘discounting’ an otherwise appropriate sentence in return for a plea of guilty. It also raises important issues regarding the appropriateness of ‘utilitarianism’ as one of those rationales, the relevance, as a sentencing factor, of the timing of a guilty plea, and the desirability of the sentencing court placing on the record what level of discount has been granted, and on what basis. Controversially, it raises the prospect of future High Court rulings to the effect that a discount for pleading guilty is discriminatory of those who exercise their right to plead not guilty, thereby obliging the Crown to prove its allegations against them. Finally, it reminds us yet again of the fragility of the current regime for providing indigent accused with adequate legal representation.

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