Long jail terms for major methamphetamine dealers have done nothing to deter the evil multibillion-dollar trade in WA, retiring Chief Justice Wayne Martin has conceded — saying ice should be tackled as a public health issue as serious as cigarettes or AIDS.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Weekend West as he enters his last week as the State’s top judge, Chief Justice Martin said successive governments’ attempts to “punish our way out” of the meth epidemic had failed.
After 12 years as WA’s premier jurist — during which time jail terms for major meth dealers have become comparable to those given to the State’s worst killers — Chief Justice Martin said experience showed while those massive sentences were warranted, they were not changing behaviour.
“If we think we are going to punish our way out of this problem we are deluding ourselves,” Chief Justice Martin said.
“We need other weapons in our armoury other than just punishment, because plainly just punishment is not working.
“I think we need to be thinking much about drug use as predominantly a health issue . . . and encouraging younger people to understand the consequences of a single bad decision.
“A lot of kids don’t understand that meth can be instantaneously addictive.
“They think, ‘I am strong enough, I will just try it once and I’ll kick it’.
“It is not like that. One experience can be life determining.”
As he prepares to move on from a legal career spanning more than 40 years, Chief Justice Martin also:
Said political demands for mandatory sentencing were “a dangerous shift”.
Cited increased workloads as putting the health of magistrates and lawyers at risk.
Claimed some young Aboriginal offenders saw prison as a safe haven.
Denied judges were out of touch or soft on crime.
Chief Justice Martin will officially retire next Friday, with his successor still to be announced by Attorney-General John Quigley.
An interim chief justice — believed to be senior judge Rene Le Miere — will sit in his place until a replacement is confirmed.
Chief Justice Martin, 65, a father of five, said he was “repositioning” rather than retiring.
He intended to do some work in the not-for-profit sector focusing on indigenous disadvantage.