Knee-jerk reaction carried through

I have previously written about Mr Leonard, who was charged with using the internet to publish child abuse material.

The material was the police statements made in relation to him in a matter for which he was convicted some years previously.

Belatedly, when looking at the District Court judgments which are now available on the net (more information than you will ever want), I discover that Leonard was convicted following a jury trial before Judge Berman SC from 2-4 September 2008. The jury retired for a while, and Mr Leonard (who had been remanded in custody overnight from the 3rd) was taken ill and away to the hospital in an ambulance. The verdict was taken in his absence.

On 5 September he was sentenced for this offence, as well as for possessing child pornography. That was for images which he had deleted from his computer but which were found when the police seized it following publicity arising from his book and the TV “exposé.”

Judge Berman did say, àpropos the child abuse material:

“I have to say that I suspect that the publication of material of this type is a far cry from what was perhaps envisaged when the fairly recent offence was introduced into the Criminal Code. Nevertheless, it is a serious criminal offence, but as the material is not erotic and I do not regard it as pornographic, I consider that this is far from the most serious example of an offence of its type.”

That didn’t stop his Honour from sentencing Leonard, 74, to six months imprisonment.

He also got one year (9 months non parole) for the possession of pornography charges.

Remarks on sentencing here.

Along the way, His Honour spoke of:

relatively mild examples of child pornography, if there can really be such a thing. But the sort of thing I am talking about there are images of boys, who are clothed. It is clear that the offender obtained these for a sexual purpose, but their production has caused much less harm to the boys involved than many other types of child pornography.

I am still puzzled about this, though I think it represents present community opinion: a picture can become pornographic if the person who possesses it possesses if for a sexual purpose. That is worrying but it underlies the current anxiety about unauthorized photographs of children in almost any circumstance. This is odd, because stranger danger is still the least cause of danger. I’m thinking of Little Sir Hugh here. The Jews are off the hook but there has to be somebody who is the focus of these sorts of fears.

His Honour then went on to say:

“Unfortunately for the offender and for the boys involved in those other types, the offender did have many other examples of much more graphic and much more serious child pornography.”

You can read the rest of the catalogue yourself. I’m nervous to repeat it because perhaps that would be an offence in itself (only not-quite joking). It included undeniable pornography. There were only, it seems, two pictures involving an adult and a child, and these, as described, seem relatively mild in the scale of the sorts of pictures which do exist. The problem is that the cases are always so quick to outrage and squeamish about describing what is actually there is that it is difficult to establish any objective yardsticks for sentencing purposes. People with much more extensive collections have certainly received shorter sentences than Leonard did.

The key point made by His Honour – expressly for the benefit of Leonard, who does not accept that there should be any age of consent laws, was possibly this:

When looking at the images one cannot help but be struck at how young some of these boys are. Boys of that age are not effectively exercising any consent as to whether they do what the producers of child pornography would have them do. They are preyed upon by those who would regard them as mere objects for sexual gratification.

In some cases what the producers of child pornography had them do was just taking their clothes off. That’s when we are in Bill Henson territory or very close to it. I do wonder if we are over-reacting here.

Leonard will be eligible for parole on 2 June 2009.

3 Responses to “Knee-jerk reaction carried through”

  1. O Says:

    The surprising part for me is not the sentence on the publication charge but the fact that the CDPP would bring the charge in the first place. As Berman said, it’s obviously a far cry from what was envisaged (although the verdict does seem available on the face of the section of the Criminal Code). The sensible but unlikely response would be an amendment to the Code to avoid a repeat.

  2. marcellous Says:

    GL allowed himself to become exhibit M for Monster on “Today Tonight.” That’s when the AFP struck and I do wonder if Chris Ellison gave them a nudge. The CDPP are prosecutors still: they just ask “Would a jury convict?” That is probably also why they proceeded on indictment, because some magistrates might well have not convicted if they had proceeded just summarily.

  3. Simpsons’ child pornography « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] In their determination to stamp out child pornography and child sexual and other abuse, parliaments have enacted extraordinarily wide “catch-all” provisions. Politicians may have thought that these provisions are necessary, a bit like anti-avoidance provisions in the Tax Act, to meet a wide range of possibilities, but these are then being interpreted and enforced literally, to the hilt and beyond, and with a prosecutorial zeal which seems, to me at least, totally out of proportion. […]

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