CRIMINAL lawyer John Herron knows what it's like to stand up in court and make his voice heard. He does it often, by representing clients who attend the legal practice at his office in Kyneton.
After his beloved daughter Courtney was killed in 2019 however, he learned what it was like to be silenced in court. He, like many other victims of crime, had no power over the plea bargaining process.
Murder or manslaughter charges can be swapped out by agreement with Victorian prosecutors for the entry of a plea of "not-guilty by reason of mental impairment".
"You can never know what it's like until you have been through it yourself - when it happens to your family," Mr Herron said.
"Nobody knows what it's like until they have walked in those shoes."
He now dedicates part of his time to assisting other families in similar situations, who often feel as though the system that should have advocated for them had instead turned on them.
Mr Herron has welcomed a motion put forward in the Upper House this week by Northern Victorian MP Tania Maxwell, who is seeking to change the rules on this kind of plea.
If successful, it would lead to a change to the wording of the plea to more accurately reflect the true nature of the circumstances, from "not guilty because of mental impairment" to "act proven but not criminally responsible".
Mr Herron said the change would mean the perpetrators would have to admit their guilt to enter the plea.
"He stood in court and laughed at us," Mr Herron said of his daughter's killer.
"When he was asked 'how do you plea', he laughed and said 'not guilty'," Mr Herron said.
"We did feel cheated (when his daughter's killer entered the plea). You do want them to acknowledge their crime. And you don't want it to happen to other young women.
"At the moment there is no recognition in court that the person has committed the crime. Our victim impact statements were not read out. The sentencing judge did not read them."
Mr Herron's daughter Courtney was killed at Melbourne Park by a man who she had met only hours earlier. Her killer was found not guilty by reason of mental impairment and ordered to undertake compulsory treatment in Thomas Embling Hospital for a nominal term of 25 years.
Mr Herron doubts the perpetrator will spend that long inside the hospital and still questions the system that allowed the man to be in the community in the first place.
"My daughter's killer had committed a serious crime against another woman before (he encountered) my daughter," he said. "He was not given monitoring and support by Corrections. If that had been done I would still have a daughter."
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