Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Judges depart Red Mass

Several hundred members of Sydney's legal community attended the 78th annual Red Mass, led by Wollongong bishop Peter Ingham.

Supreme Court justices and judges and magistrates from the district and local courts wore traditional robes as they led Tuesday morning's procession into St Mary's Cathedral in central Sydney. Judges attend the Mass, which signifies the commencement of the law term, to seek divine guidence in the legal profession.

Bishop Peter Ingham reminded the Judges about locking up the mentally ill in prison and that they should not be dishing out double punishment to them.

Jails Fail Mentally Ill

Friday, 25 January 2008

Girls broke law to see jailed friends: Police

Two 14-year-old girls from Carnarvon, in central western Western Australia, who pleaded guilty to several burglaries, told police they committed the crimes so they could spend time with friends already in custody.

One of the girls pleaded guilty to 19 offences, including seven counts of aggravated burglary.

The other pleaded guilty to 11 offences, including attempting to steal a motor vehicle.

Detective Senior Constable Bruce McDonald says he is concerned by the reason behind the weekend crime spree.

"The disturbing matter regarding all the offences is that when the girls were interviewed by the police they stated they wanted to get apprehended so that they could be remanded in custody and sent to Rangeview Remand Centre in Perth where they currently have a group of friends," he said.

The girls are due back in court at a later date for pre-sentence reports.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

ICOPA XII will be in London in July 2008

The Howard League for Penal Reform is organising and hosting the international conference to develop the case for the abolition of prison and to rethink penal policy.

ICOPA XII - Creating a scandal: prison abolition and the policy agenda will be taking place on 23, 24 & 25 July 2008, at Kings College London.

A short version of the 63 minute documentary of ICOPA XI is now on YouTube. Or connect from our home page at Justice Action

The documentary addresses penal abolition as a concept and issues surrounding that policy. It presents the 11th International Conference on Penal Abolition held in Tasmania, Australia over the 9-11th February 2006.

The full video is now available on DVD either as NTSC or PAL costing Aust$30 including postage anywhere. There is a secure order form on the website home page or you can send a cheque.

It features: Patmalar Ambikapathy, Kat Armstrong, Greg Barns, Jean Claude Bernheim, David Brown, Anthony Bull, Vicki Chartrand, Brett Collins, Jim Consedine, Rodney Crosswell, Caroline Dean, Vickie Douglas, Marc Forget, Ian Fraser, Bob Gaucher, Giselle Hanna,Terry Hicks, Debra Hocking, Louk Hulsman, Ray Jackson, Debbie Kilroy, Rosaleen Macaulay, Gwynn MacCarrick, Pat Magill, Joane Martel, Melissa Munn, Brenda Murphy, Kilty O'Gorman, Ernest Ogbozor, Debra Parkes, Kim Pate, Peg Putt, Viviane Saleh-Hanna, Phil Scraton, Charandev Singh, Somebody's Daughter Theatre, Jean Stewart, Kevin Tomkins, Hal Pepinsky, Mike Tamplin, Ailsa Watkinson, Chris Wever, and Donna Williamson.

Trades Hall, Level 2, Suite 204, 4 Goulburn St, Sydney NSW 2000 (Entry via 377 Sussex Street)
PO Box 386, Broadway NSW 2007
T 02 9283 0123 | F 02 9283 0112
E ja@justiceaction.org.au


Saturday, 19 January 2008

NSW jailing more for common offences: report

[The imprisonment of offenders effectively amounts to society relinquishing its responsibility to deal with the problems at hand. By excluding the problems in this way, society is limiting its ability to understand the origins of crime and thus perpetuating its continuation. In addition to this, it has been found that prisons often serve as colleges of crime for offenders, rather than rehabilitation centres. In this way, society's incarceration of offenders serves to fuel the very problem which they sought to solve. The effect of this has inevitably been seen through the recidivism rate which currently sits at 44%. The NSW Audit Office earlier this year [2007] released a study of the Department of Corrective Services' capacity to rehabilitate prisoners. The success of the DCS has been proven to be quite limited with one in two offenders returning to prison or community supervision after release.]

A report by the Judicial Commission of New South Wales has found more jail terms are being handed out for common offences in the state than anywhere else in the country.

The figures show imprisonment rates in New South Wales for crimes including sexual assault and robbery are double those in Victoria and higher than those in the UK and Canada.

Police Minister David Campbell says new bail laws target repeat offenders and allow officers to do their job.

"We know that hard working police in New South Wales are gathering the evidence and laying the charges," he said.

"When those charges are proven in court, the New South Wales justice system is then supporting the police by sending criminals to jail terms for the most common offences than in any other state."



While the link between crime and incarceration seems logical, many studies have revealed that incarceration has a negative impact on crime rates. Research indicates that increasing the imprisonment rates may result in more crime, particularly amongst certain types of offenders.

The social and personal damage which is involved with incarceration serves to explain this finding. The imprisonment of offenders effectively amounts to society relinquishing its responsibility to deal with the problems at hand. By excluding the problems in this way, society is limiting its ability to understand the origins of crime and thus perpetuating its continuation. In addition to this, it has been found that prisons often serve as colleges of crime for offenders, rather than rehabilitation centres. In this way, society's incarceration of offenders serves to fuel the very problem which they sought to solve. The effect of this has inevitably been seen through the recidivism rate which currently sits at 44%. The NSW Audit Office earlier this year [2007] released a study of the Department of Corrective Services' capacity to rehabilitate prisoners. The success of the DCS has been proven to be quite limited with one in two offenders returning to prison or community supervision after release. The funds could therefore more successfully be used in supplying post release accommodation to help support ex- offenders.

The negative effect of incarceration on offenders is evident through the personal damage which the process fosters. United States research has proven that the growth of incarceration has had profoundly disruptive effects that radiate into other spheres of society. The persistent removal of persons from the community to prison and their eventual return has a destabilising effect that has been demonstrated to fray family and community bonds, and contribute to an increase in recidivism and future criminality . Moreover, Russell Hogg at the University of New England recognises that "incarceration destroys or disrupts the links individuals have with conventional domains of life, like family, employment, secure housing and so on, links whose fragility or fracture is usually a factor leading to the involvement in crime and whose rehabilitation is crucial to the resumption of a law- abiding existence. "

In this sense the necessity and desirability of developing an additional prison is questionable. The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research data reveals that there has been a 10.11% decrease in crime rates between in NSW, and more particularly a 1.92% decrease in crime rates in the local government area of Shoalhaven between 1997 and 2005. Despite this reduction in crime rates however, the imprisonment rates has been on the incline. Professor Paul Wilson, Chair of Criminology at Bond University puts this trend down to one thing: "The more prisons you build the more you are forced to fill them". Professor Wilson's comment is particularly significant in light of the proposed prison development in Shoalhaven. The rationale behind the development is that the prison is to cater for local offenders. Current statistics show that the imprisonment rate is 160 prisoners per 100 000 persons in the population. Based on Shoalhaven's current population of 95 590, this local government area should only produce 152 prisoners. WE NEED TO BE CAREFUL ABOUT USING THIS FIGURE – IT WOULD BE USEFUL TO MAKE SURE THAT THERE IS NO CRIME ‘HOT SPOT’ IN THE REGION WHICH COULD MAKE A SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE IN IMPRISONMENT FIGURES.

It is likely that prisoners will be relocated from other prisons around NSW such as Kempsey to fill the remaining beds. As has been demonstrated historically the building of a new prison is more likely than anything else to increase the prisoner population.

The increase in social burden upon the Nowra community of having a prison
There will be large numbers of family and friends visiting prisoners and many of these people will be disadvantaged and will need inexpensive accommodation, some will need support when they are visiting etc. Some will move temporarily to be near their family member and again will need social support and services. When people are released, because Nowra is a fair distance from Sydney and will be a fair distance from where many of those housed there will be returning, there will be the need for supported accommodation/transitional/emergency housing, there will also be the need for increased services such Centrelink, medical care both for prisoners and for visitors and releasees etc. None of this has been costed into the plan. The Shoalhaven is already stretched to its limits for health care and social services.


The NSW government has claimed that the need to develop a correctional facility in the Kiama region stems from the current lack thereof and the benefit of providing a rehabilitation facility close to offenders' families. However, this rationale ignores any possible alternatives to incarceration and the benefits of such alternatives.

Restorative Justice
Restorative Justice is a pragmatic response to the shortcomings of the law and order system. It recognises that prisons often actually work as colleges of crime that increase recidivism, that tougher punishment does not deter crime and that the cost of the prison system is a massive social burden, which is highly ineffective. The Restorative Justice approach, promotes the repair, reconciliation and rebuilding of relationships in the community as a result of crime, focusing on transforming the offender.

The Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 s5 states that in NSW imprisonment is a penalty of last resort. Therefore, the following community- based sanctions and programmes can be used as an alternative to incarceration :
- Magistrate's early referral into treatment program
- Drug court
- Circle Sentencing
- Intensive court supervision programme
- Good behaviour bonds
- Community service orders
- Periodic detention
- Home detention

The availability of some of these programs in rural areas is however more limited than in urban areas. In this way, the funding which has been dedicated to the development of the prison would be more beneficially used to develop and maintain the facilities for these programmes.

Circle Sentencing
Circle sentencing is a form of Restorative Justice that can be utilised as an alternative to incarceration. The practice originated in Canada in Indigenous communities in the early 1990s. The two core criteria of circle sentencing are:
1. the offender must be willing to take full responsibility for his/her wrongdoing
2. there must be a community willing and able to facilitate a process of healing and restoration for the offender

Circle sentencing was first trialled in NSW in Indigenous communities in Nowra and has since been used in Lismore, Dubbo, Mount Druitt, Walgett, Bourke and Brewarinna. It sought to address the problem that Aboriginal people represent only 2% of the NSW population, yet they make up 20% of the state's prison population. It only concerns sentencing and not the determination of guilt. The process involves the offender sitting with Elders, Magistrate, Prosecutors, and support people to talk about the crime and how it has affected the community, victim and offender. Afterwards, the Elders discuss the sentence before making their recommendations to the magistrate who will hand down the sentence. The sentence has to be within the legislation, including imprisonment, counselling, home detention or community service. Unlike traditional sentencing, where the emphasis is on the punishment of the offender, community participation in decision- making ensures that the social dimensions relating to the offenders behaviour are being addressed. This in turn means that the chances of recidivism are being reduced. The involvement of the community in the sentencing means that the offender is not only being held accountable to the court, but to the whole community which establishes support for the offender throughout the sentence and beyond.

The benefits of circle sentencing involve the reduction in recidivism rates in all jurisdictions in which it currently operates. The NSW Judicial Commission Review of Nowra found that of 24 offenders [with more that 150 offences] only 1 re-offended. Past offenders have addressed their alcoholism and found employment, in some cases full- time. Nowra’s Circle Sentencing program has won a $10,000 prize at the 2005 Australian Crime and Violence Prevention Awards. The basis of the success of circle sentencing has been attributed to the offender’s realisation that their own community doesn’t accept their offending, but are prepared to help them stop it. The procedure has both political and criminal justice benefits for the whole of society. The process is beginning to influence other aspects of the Aboriginal community life in the South Coast area.

An evaluation of circle sentencing in New South Wales by the Judicial Commission of New South Wales and NSW Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council has revealed the many successes of the procedure . The procedure has been found to:
- reduce the barriers that currently exist between the courts and Aboriginal offenders
- lead to improvements in the level of support of Aboriginal offenders
- incorporate support for victims, and promotes healing and reconciliation
- increase the confidence and generally promotes the empowerment of Aboriginal persons in the community
- introduce more relevant and meaningful sentencing options for Aboriginal offenders, with the help of respected community members
- help to break the cycle of recidivism.

One aspect of circle sentencing community members noted was that it has not been a ‘light option’ for offenders, but one that has made the difference. Robert Bolt, the first to go through the circle, despite at least eight custodial terms, has not re-offended in at least sixteen months later. The involvement of Aboriginal Elders is having a great impact on the behaviour of people who have had lengthy contact with the criminal justice system and detention. Ms Gail Wallace, Circle Sentencing Project Co-ordinator said “community sentencing works effectively when it comes to community sanctions. Imagine what it would be like living, interacting and residing in close proximity to the elders who have sentenced you.”

Craig Veness, the Prosecuting Office in Shoalhaven has said: “What I'm seeing in the 20 years of policing that I have had this is the most profound and effective mechanism through which people have been aided in breaking that cycle of re-offending. __I am seeing people who I have personally arrested and prosecuted - I am now seeing them as worthwhile members of society. _”

An important consideration regarding circle sentencing relates to judicial resources. In the Local Courts the majority of sentencing hearings are dealt with usually in less than half an hour. On the other hand, circle sentencing involves a hearing process with many active participants. As a result, the hearing can require a whole day of hearing before the sentence is laid down. However, if circle sentencing reduces future offending, there will be considerable benefits in terms of quality of life for the offender and for the community at large. Further a reduction in future offending entails considerable savings to the criminal justice system in terms of police, courts and corrections. Circle- sentencing may be seen as providing additional resources at one point in time in exchange for long-term benefits . The success of circle sentencing thus far in Nowra presents a powerful case for the expansion of the program into other suitable communities in the best interests of the administration of justice in NSW.

The implementation of the resources to encourage the practice of Circle sentencing in Nowra and the Kiama region provides a useful redirection of the $130 million, which has been set aside for the development of the new prison. The maximum effect of Circle Sentencing can be achieved where there are adequate treatment facilities available in the community. Without alcohol and other drug rehabilitation opportunities, as well as options available for addressing issues of domestic violence, the potential benefits of Circle Sentencing are likely to be diminished.

The $130 million fund could benefit the Shoalhaven community in numerous ways by addressing its many needs. To direct this money to the development of a new prison is destructive.

The whole community could benefit from the development and maintenance of alternative Restorative Justice processes, as well as the expansion of supporting community based services . These will assist the offender in taking responsibility for their actions, in rebuilding a law- abiding existence and maintaining the fragile and important links with conventional domains of

This report is intended to give an overview of the issue and raise some ideas to be used as levers to establish a campaign.

The government proposal to develop a new prison in the Shoalhaven is likely to breed more crime. It is important to take account of the negative effects prisons have on the offender, community, crime rates and the environment.


Clear, T., Rose, D.R., Waring, E., and Scully, K. (2003) "Coercive Mobility and crime: A preliminary examination of concentrated Incarceration and social disorganisation", Justice Quarterly, Vol 20, (1), pp. 33-64. To be published in E. Barclay, J. Scott, R. Hogg and J. Donnemeyer (eds) Crime in rural communities forthcoming, Federation Press, 2007.

Lawlink Sentencing Council

7:30 Report Transcript 01/09/03 at

Email: ja@justiceaction.org.au
Webiste: http://www.justiceaction.org.au



Adult prisoner numbers increased by 1,400 (6%) over the past year [2006] to June 2007, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Based on current figures, a total of 27,200 prisoners are currently in our jails - an imprisonment rate of 169 prisoners per 100,000 adult population.

Over half (57%) of all prisoners had served a sentence in an adult prison prior to the current episode. Nearly two-thirds of prisoners (62% or 7,000), sentenced in the 12 months prior to June 2007, had previously been in prison.

The largest proportion of prisoners were sentenced for acts intended to cause injury (16%), followed by sexual assault (13%).

Prisoners on average were sentenced to 4.8 years, however the average expected time to serve (the earliest date of release) was 3.4 years. For the offence of acts intended to cause injury, prisoners were sentenced to an average of 3 years, but served an average of 2.1 years for this offence.

Nearly a quarter (22%) of all prisoners were on remand; an increase of 9% from June 2006. The average time spent on remand by prisoners was five months.

Nearly a quarter (24%) of prisoners were Indigenous. Indigenous prisoners were 13 times more likely to be in prison than non-Indigenous prisoners. However, their average sentence length was less than non-Indigenous prisoners (3.6 years compared with 5.3 years).

Other findings at 30 June 2007 were:
The average age of all prisoners was 35 years.
Over three-quarters of prisoners (79%) were born in Australia.
The imprisonment rate for women increased from 15 to 24 prisoners per 100,000 adult women over the 10 years to June 2007.
South Australia had the highest average sentence length for all prisoners at 6.1 years.

Further details are available in Prisoners in Australia (cat. no. 4517.0).

Media note: Sexual assault includes related offences. The average sentence and expected time to serve excludes prisoners with indeterminate, life and periodic detention sentences.


Lift the veil and show us what the jurors see?

"The NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, sees some problems in all this. He points to the tension between the public's right to know and the community's "confidence in the administration of justice". If the media edits or selects bits of the evidence the reporting would be very bias and unfair"., [unless you trust corporate media that is? TRIAL BY MEDIA! or trial by a Jury?]

By Richard Ackland Brisbane Times

Widening the gene pool of juries by including lawyers and various categories of former criminals in the selection process is an important step in the shake-up of the justice system.

The recommendations from the NSW Law Reform Commission are a reminder that juries should as closely as possible reflect the wider community, so long as serving cabinet ministers are not empanelled. The commission is seeking to create a greater sense of engagement by the public with the court process and to break down the well established notion that courts are the play-thing of professionals and judges, with everyone else herded in and out as tiresome functionaries.

But to really get the public educated and interested in the process of justice the commission might have gone one extra step, even if that involved a tiny stretch of its terms of reference.

The step is this - why not release to the media, and thereby the public, the same material that the jury has been allowed to see as evidence and to release it on the very same day? There is no good reason for locking the public out of the court room. If a jury sees a piece of evidence it cannot be prejudicial to the case if the rest of the public sees it, too.

In England and Wales they have gone this extra step in the form of a protocol that has transformed the way the criminal courts are reported.

Essentially the prosecutors there release to the media transcripts, camera footage or other evidence on the day it is shown to the jury. It is seen on the TV news and newspaper websites that night.

This has had the effect of removing the idea that the rest of the community is on the sidelines when it comes to criminal trials.

It has also modernised the way cases are reported and removed the notion, at least for TV, that criminal trials are "visually restrictive".

Gone is the formulaic file footage showing the scales of justice and the reporter delivering from outside the court what had happened inside. The TV shots of barristers self-consciously striding down the street have given way to evidence as seen by the jury, such as CCTV footage of the accused, taped police records of interview, voice traffic on phones, footage taken by defendants on mobile phones, maps and models of the scene of the alleged crime and the transcript of the prosecution's opening address.

John Battle, an English lawyer and head of compliance at the Independent Television Network in London, was in Australia recently and gave some insights into just how all this works in Britain. He was a member of the group that helped negotiate the protocol.

Battle said that most of the police evidence would normally be disclosed to the public, but "sensitive" footage or photographs of the victim or other witnesses might only be released after consultation with those parties.

The important thing is that there is a procedure in place that makes most court room evidence available. The British public saw many images on a daily basis of material shown to the court in the case of the failed London bombing terrorism trial. This included footage of the moment one of the accused attempted to detonate a bomb on the Underground right next to a mother and child. In the Jean Charles de Menezes case footage was made public showing police officers running into an Underground station where the victim was shot in the mistaken belief he was a terrorist. In each instance the requests from the media for publication have to be approved by the police, prosecution, defence and the judge. Once that happens the material is posted on a police website for downloading by the media, and anyone else for that matter. Of course, this enlivens the media's coverage of what can be a dry and dusty criminal process, but Battle says that showing what happens "transforms the public understanding of the case". Sometimes judges in the sainted province of NSW have released to the media evidence heard in open court, but invariably it is after the jury has done its work and gone home.

This happened in the Kathleen Folbigg case, where her interview with the police was made public, and in the Sef Gonzales murder trial, where the triple-0 call was subsequently published. The point though is that here there is no system in place. If the evidence is put before the public, this is invariably the product of a piecemeal and inconsistent process.

The NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, sees some problems in all this. He points to the tension between the public's right to know and the community's "confidence in the administration of justice". If the media edits or selects bits of the evidence the reporting may be unfair.

In any event, there have been no complaints with the way the protocol has worked in practice in Britain, and it surely cannot be beyond the wit of the Australian media and the court system to work something out here

TRIAL BY MEDIA! or trial by a Jury?
Once a person is charged there should be a media black ban on that case until a jury has found the person either guilty or not guilty. If the media have the power to elect our political parties then they also have the power to find people guilty. Especially people who are being tried over and over again. Now with no double jeopardy rules and majority verdicts in NSW then high profile cases have become susceptible to being tried by the media and not by the jury in my humble opinion.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Court jails 'favourite teacher' for sex abuse

The court was told the man was 'everyone's favourite teacher'. But he has been jailed for sexual abuse.

A former primary school teacher has been jailed for sexually abusing a student of an Adelaide school.

During his trial in the District Court, Brett Ronald Macbeth, 41, was described as 'everyone's favourite teacher'.

He was found guilty of two counts of indecently assaulting a 14-year-old boy while teaching at Aberfoyle Park primary school, in April 2003.

The court heard the teacher had a sexual relationship with the teenager for months.

He was found guilty of abusing the child on a weekend when he took him to two hotels without his parents' knowledge.

About 30 people were in court today to support Macbeth, who is married.

Judge Steven Millsteed jailed Macbeth for three years and nine months, with a minimum term of two years and three months.

The judge described the crime as a shameful breach of trust.

Top prosecutor Power 'sorry' for child porn

Power out: The former crown prosecutor says his time in jail was very difficult.

Disgraced former New South Wales crown prosecutor Patrick Power has apologised for his actions after serving six months in solitary confinement for possessing child pornography.

The 55-year-old made the apology in a statement upon his release from Sydney's Long Bay Jail this morning.

Mr Power was arrested and charged last year after 433 pornographic images and 31 videos were found on his personal computer.

He had given it to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for repair.

The former crown prosecutor was sentenced to a maximum of 15 months' jail but the District Court reduced his non-parole period to six months in July last year.

"I'd just like to say I deeply regret my inappropriate behaviour," he said outside jail.

"I'm very sorry and I'd like to apologise to my family and friends and my former work colleagues."

Mr Power said his time in jail had been hard.

"I've been held in complete isolation," he said. "It's been very difficult."

In sentencing, judge Brian Boulten described the contents of the computer as "disgusting" and "depraved".

Mr Power was later stripped of his right to practice law by the NSW Bar Association.

A spokesman says Mr Power currently has no practising certificate, and a hearing is planned for May in the NSW Court of Appeal to have him permanently disbarred.

He has also had his name added to the list of the state's sex offenders.

Man jailed for 15 years over Brisbane rape

A convicted rapist has been sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Brisbane judge.

Stephen Bruce Porter, 43, was found guilty by a District Court jury of raping a young woman at Wooloowin in Brisbane's north almost a year ago.

The 19-year-old student was bound and blindfolded by Porter in her own home during the ordeal.

Porter was found guilty of eight offences, including three counts of rape and one of deprivation of liberty.

He will serve at least 80 per cent of the sentence after Judge Tony Rafter declared him to be a serious violent offender.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Govt to fund 75 family counselling centres

The Federal Government has announced that 75 new family counselling services will be funded this year.

There will be 25 Family Relationship Centres, which are designed to help families resolve their disputes without resorting to court action.

The Government says another 28 centres will provide services to help children whose parents have separated.

Another 22 early intervention centres will also be established to help prevent family breakdowns.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Divorce season

APPOINTMENTS with divorce lawyers are soaring, triggered by the stresses and strains of the Christmas break.

Some firms report a doubling in consultations during January compared with other months.

The new year is so notorious for divorce appointments that among the legal profession, the Monday of the first full week back in the office after the Christmas break is known as D-Day.

Figures from the Federal Magistrates Court, which deals with most divorce applications, show that January marks the start of a steady month-on-month surge in the number of people filing for a legal split.

In the last financial year, December had the lowest rate of divorce applications, with 2828 nationwide (excluding Western Australia which has its own family court).

In January, applications rose by more than 10 per cent to 3225, followed by similar rises month on month before peaking at 4486 in May.

A court spokeswoman said the statistics reflect that people first see a lawyer in January but may only lodge a divorce application weeks or months afterwards, once they have tried and failed with counselling and mediation.

Paul Doolan, a partner with Sydney divorce firm Barkus Edwards Doolan, said: "The first few weeks of January are always our busiest time. We get a large spike in people wanting advice. Christmas can be a real pressure cooker situation for some people. They are thrown together for an extended amount of time and at the end of it someone just says, 'That's it, I can't take it any more and I want a divorce'."

"For other people, it has been building up for some time and they make a new year's resolution to get out of the marriage and act on that."

Frank Egan, CEO of LAC Lawyers, said the company sees double the average number of clients in the first weeks of the year.

Mr Egan said that as well as people spending a lot of time together over Christmas, there are related factors, including alcohol, arguments over money, credit card debt and problems with relatives.

"Some people are already separated and have been holding off on the divorce, but then Christmas comes and the arguments start over who is going to have the kids, who gets to take them on holiday and what's happening with the money and that drives them into finally filing for divorce."

Lawyers say women outnumber men two to one when it comes to filing for divorce in the new year. Anne Hollonds, CEO of Relationships Australia, said its phones "run hot" after the Christmas break.

Stress and debt make Sydney a violent city

SYDNEY is an angry city with longer working hours, climbing levels of debt and traffic snarls.

People are trying to cope with increasing stress that leads to alcohol-fuelled violence and a less tolerant society, a sociologist has warned.

James Arvanitakis, from the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney, said Sydneysiders were increasingly feeling the pressures of a competitive society, getting more and more frustrated with everyday annoyances such as public transport delays and feeling increasingly time poor.

"Even though there's quite a lot of wealth, people feel like there's this feeling of competitiveness and that's both on a professional and personal level," Dr Arvanitakis said.

"It's an angry city. It's a combination of the number of work hours and increasing levels of debt and people are feeling the ongoing pressure to buy more and more consumer goods."

Tony Grabs, the director of trauma at St Vincent's Hospital in Darlinghurst, said the number of people admitted to the hospital with injuries from alcohol- and drug-related violence had risen dramatically.

From October 2003 to September 2004, 120 patients were admitted to St Vincent's following an assault or stabbing, Dr Grabs said.

Of those, 54 had been alcohol- or drug-related attacks.

But from October 2006 to September last year, the number of admissions was 197 and those related to alcohol or drugs had nearly doubled to 90.

Dr Grabs believes the latter figures could be even higher. They did not take into account patients who presented to the hospital but were not admitted.

"Over three years, that's a dramatic increase," Dr Grabs said.

Dr Grabs said many city office workers and professionals used alcohol as a way to release work stress but said they were drinking at more harmful levels than they used to.

"It's a fast life," he said of Sydney. "With a fast life there is a perception that they need to unwind.

"Unfortunately, they're unwinding with alcohol."

Dr Grabs said a relatively strong local economy with good employment levels was keeping the violence from getting out of control but he feared what would happen should a recession hit, combined with interest rate increases.

He also said Sydney's cultural mix could sometimes fuel some of the assaults and stabbings.

Figures from the Bureau of Crime Statistics show a rise in assaults - both domestic-violence related and non-domestic related - over the past 10 years, and police agree alcohol-related violence is a problem.