The new edition of Fox & Freiberg on Sentencing

The tools of trade for any advocate are their wits, their tongue, and their knowledge of the law. And none of us can know all the law, and so we often refer to primary and secondary sources.

Richard Fox and Arie Freiberg’s Sentencing: State and Federal Law in Victoria is one of those few secondary sources that is certainly recognised as an authority in its own right, and though not a primary source of law, is one that criminal advocates probably can’t do without. I managed to get one of the few copies remaining when Oxford University Press was running out the last of the second edition, published in 1999. It was still a good source for sentencing principles and policies, but changes to sentencing law had reduced its utility.

As an aside, I discovered a little while ago in a speech from Lord Neuberger that it turns out the “better read when dead” convention — which prohibited conferring the status of the status of authority on a published work until its authors were dead — is not correct, if it ever were. No doubt Arie Freiberg will be pleased to hear this.

So I was very pleased when last Thursday my ProView library updated to download the eBook version of the third edition of this tome, and my hardcopy arrived Friday.

The book or eBook on their own are $260; the two combined are $338. (Link here.) The work is current to October 2013 — I’ve already found legislative references that have been amended since then! — and significantly reworked to discuss the raft of ancillary orders that are made either at the sentencing stage or follow as a consequence of sentencing.

The eBook is excellent — you can see my review of ProView here — and set to display the same as the hardcopy, so there won’t be any confusion when referring to page numbers. However, the table of contents doesn’t have a great deal of depth. So for example, in Chapter 5 ‘General sentencing principles: nature of the offender’, the only contents entry is for the first paragraph, headed Nature of the offender.

The chapter runs for nearly 40 pages, and has about 15 sub-headings, yet none of those show in the table of contents. Tough luck if you want to jump to the last sub-heading emotional stress on page 373! I guess an electronic document like this can be updated, so hopefully we might see a fix to this.

My only other criticism so far is the index is fairly basic, and from what I’ve looked at so far, seems to only have one entry for any given item. A good index with lots of cross-referencing or multiple entries for the same material is an absolute boon. (It’s also a lot of hard work, and adds to the size and cost of a publication, so it always involves a balancing act.)

The other great benefit of the eBook version — something common to most ProView titles — is the ability to export parts of the work to PDF. I can export selected text — the most I can select is a single page; it doesn’t seem possible to select say two-and-a-half pages — or the current view, or a current table-of-contents section. (Which in chapter 5, going on my whinge above, would presently be the whole chapter.) It’s a great feature though, and I can see it being really handy when I want to include the relevant portion of Fox and Freiberg in any material I want to provide to the Bench.

Despite the couple of minor gripes I have, this is a significant update and a great addition to the library of any criminal advocate. It’s not exactly cheap, but well worth it for its authoritative discussion on sentencing law in Victoria, not to mention that it can save literally hours of research for the busy advocate. I reckon it’s a must-have for any criminal practitioner.

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