Should corporate crimes have tougher penalties?

Wednesday, 01 April 2020


    Human rights advocate and solicitor Teela Reid is calling for tougher action on corporate misbehaviour.

    Corporate crimes ought to have tougher penalties if we are to take equality before the law seriously. As a defence lawyer, I see people incarcerated for stealing much less — such as food to feed themselves — or possessing a bicycle reasonably suspected of being stolen. These are people disproportionately affected by crimes of poverty, the most vulnerable in our society, simply trying to survive.

    When I was tipstaff to Justice Lucy McCallum in the NSW Supreme Court, we presided over the insider trading case of R v Curtis (No 3) [2016] NSWSC 866, involving $1.43m. Curtis was convicted by jury and sentenced to 12 months in prison.

    In the judgement, her Honour noted: “White-collar crime is a field in which, perhaps more than any other, offending is often a choice freely made by well-educated people from privileged backgrounds, prompted by greed rather than the more pernicious influences of poverty, mental illness or addiction that grip other communities. The threat of being sent to jail, provided it is perceived as a real threat and not one judges will hesitate to enforce, is likely to operate as a powerful deterrent to men and women of business.”

    We need to get real about where accountability lies in white-collar crime issues. People need to be held responsible for their decisions.

    Teela Reid is a Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman from Gilgandra, NSW. She was Australia’s Female Indigenous Youth Delegate to the UN Permanent Forum in New York, which inspired her to become a lawyer. In 2017, she attended Harvard University as a global Emerging Leader. Inaugural recipient of the NSW Indigenous Barristers Trust award, she was a working group leader in the discussion process of the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart.

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