Lone Anarchists and Peace Pilgrims: The Relevance of Political Motivations to Sentencing
journal contributionposted on 29.10.2019, 09:46 by Jamie Walvisch
In late 2017, a Tasmanian ‘anarchist’ wearing a ‘Vote Yes’ [for same-sex marriage] badge headbutted former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. A few months later, six ‘peace pilgrims’ were sentenced for trespassing onto the Pine Gap military base as part of a political protest. These two cases raised the important question of what effect (if any) offenders’ political motivations should have on their sentences: an issue which has received surprisingly little academic attention in Australia to date. This article examines the general relevance of political motivations to sentencing. It identifies two distinct approaches that have been taken in the Australian case law: a sympathetic approach, in which political motivations are considered to be mitigating; and an unsympathetic approach, in which politically motivated offences are seen to require strongly denunciatory and deterrent sentences. It explores the factors that influence sentencing judges’ adoption of a particular approach, and sketches out some key principles that should guide judges when determining whether an offender’s political motivations are mitigating, drawing on a combination of political philosophy and Australian constitutional law.