THE average jail term for people convicted of manslaughter has been less than seven years since 1989, according to the Attorney-General, Jeremy Mathews. Of the 215 people convicted of the crime between 1989 and last year, 37 did not receive a prison term. Instead, they were given hospital orders, probation orders or training centre orders. Noting that the penalties for manslaughter were sometimes lighter than those for robbery, Liberal Party legislator Lau Wong-fat questioned whether the terms were too lenient to deter the crime. Mr Mathews did not answer directly, but said the courts looked at individual cases based on the available evidence and the circumstances of the crime. He rejected a suggestion that a minimum penalty should be set to ensure a sufficient deterrent. ''It would be contrary to legal policy for the law to attempt to lay down a minimum penalty for this offence,'' he said. ''As the law stands, a judge, when sentencing, is able to decide what sentence within the statutory maximum is just and appropriate having regard to all the facts and circumstances. A minimum penalty will inevitably create unfairness.'' Mr Mathews said manslaughter covered a wide scope of killings, including those which were provoked and without intent to those in which the defendants might be suffering from mental illness. ''It all depends on the facts and one should not fetter the discretion of the sentence of the judge,'' he said.