Picture: AAP/David Clark
Picture: AAP/David Clark

Criminals avoiding jail time because of coronavirus

CRIMINALS with health conditions who would normally be sent to jail are being given community-based sentences as courts are forced to get creative in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Robert Darcy Williams, 70, was caught by the Australian Federal Police with 1670 "heinous" images of young children after a tip-off from Interpol.

He faced Brisbane District Court yesterday where he pleaded guilty to accessing and possessing child exploitation material.

Williams, who was born with cerebral palsy, had a prior conviction for similar offending and would normally have been given a jail term.

But between Williams's congenital condition and coronavirus, Judge Orazio Rinaudo said there were "exceptional circumstances at play" that called for Williams to serve his time in the community.

Williams was sentenced to two years' jail with immediate probation, wholly suspended for two years.

It comes as a Townsville judge ruled the coronavirus was enough to convince him he should be "lenient" on an asthma-affected mother who was dealing drugs to high school students with her teenage daughter.



Williams's defence barrister Malcolm Harrison said he was aware of at least one other case this week where a Supreme Court judge delivered an "unusual" sentence in light of the virus, releasing an arsonist who would normally be jailed.

Another offender Barry Stephen Sullivan, who has chronic ulcers, was due to be sentenced today after pleading guilty to fraud in excess of $30,000 - which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years.

Sullivan did not show up at Brisbane District Court and sent an email this morning notifying the court that he had come in contact with a person who had been diagnosed Covid-19 and had to go to hospital.

While Sullivan's claims could not be verified, Judge Gregory Lynham - who appeared via videolink - noted the risk it could pose to the court and adjourned the sentencing to a later date.

Judge Lyndham said the courts had been hesitant to sentence chronically ill patients because of the burden it could place on Queensland Corrective Services.

'If coronavirus gets into the jail system, no doubt it would be very concerning for Corrective Services generally," he said.

"I know there's been at least some reluctance to deal with matters where a defendant, who has had pre-existing health issues, are exposed to terms of actual imprisonment and the burden that might place on Corrective Services.

"But that being said, it's not a universal practice and every case must be assessed on its own merits."

In Queensland and Australia-wide, courts have taken unprecedented steps to control the spread of the virus.

New jury trials have and coronial inquests been suspended.

Last week a Townsville murder trial was called off last week after a local barrister was asked to self-isolate while his nurse wife was tested for coronavirus.

Magistrates courts from Central Queensland to the most northern reaches of the state have also introduced social distancing measures in some courtrooms.

Defendants and their lawyers can appear via telephone, email, letter or electronic adjournment request in any matters.

To find out how your local court is affected, visit: www.courts.qld.gov.au

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