Concurrency and Cumulation in Sentencing

Offenders are commonly sentenced for multiple charges at the same court hearing. This can be because:

  • multiple charges arise from multiple offences – for example, a series of breaking and entering offences might result in multiple charges of burglary and aggravated burglary
  • multiple charges arise from a single incident – for example, a bank robbery might result in charges of armed robbery, possession of an unlicensed firearm, making threats to kill, and dangerous driving.

The principal sentence in a case with multiple charges is the most severe sentence imposed for a charge within the case. The court will order individual sentences imposed for any other charges in the case to be served concurrently, cumulatively, or partially cumulatively and partially concurrently with the principal sentence.

When the principal sentence is added to the cumulative portion of any other sentence, the court will decide the total effective sentence (TES) to be served by the offender.

Once a total effective sentence is set, the court may consider setting a minimum non-parole period.

Concurrent Sentences

Concurrent sentences are served at the same time. For example, if a person is sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment for the most serious charge and six months’ imprisonment for a second charge to be served concurrently, a total of nine months will be served:

Charge 1 = 9 months
Charge 2 = 6 months to be served concurrently
Total effective sentence = 9 months

Cumulative Sentences

Cumulative sentences are served one after another. For example, if a person is sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment for the most serious charge and six months’ imprisonment for a second charge to be served cumulatively, a total of 15 months will be served:

Charge 1 = 9 months
Charge 2 = 6 months to be served cumulatively
Total effective sentence = 15 months

Partial Cumulation

When a court orders partial cumulation, part of one sentence will be served at the same time as the principal sentence and part will be served after the term of the principal sentence has ended.

For example, if a person is sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment for the most serious charge and six months’ imprisonment for a second charge with two months’ partial cumulation, a total of 11 months will be served:

Charge 1 = 9 months
Charge 2 = 6 months (4 months concurrent, 2 months cumulative)
Total effective sentence = 11 months

Why Concurrency and Cumulation?

When sentencing an offender for more than one offence, the court must ensure that the sentence handed down is just and appropriate given the overall criminality of the offending behaviour. This is called the totality principle.

Without concurrency, offenders might face sentences that are disproportionate to the offending behaviour. Disproportionate sentences can have a crushing effect on offenders, by destroying any expectation of a useful life upon release.

How Does the Court Decide on Concurrency and Cumulation?

The Sentencing Act 1991 creates a series of presumptions about whether particular sentences are to be served concurrently or cumulatively. The Act provides that sentences of imprisonment are generally to be served concurrently, unless, for example, the offender is classified as a 'serious offender' or the offence is committed while the offender is on parole or bail.

Generally, a court will order multiple sentences arising from the one incident to be served concurrently, for example when various charges arise from a single bank robbery.

A court will generally order sentences arising from separate incidents, or involving multiple victims, to be served partially or wholly cumulatively. Cumulation reflects the increased criminality associated with multiple offences or victims.

These sentencing practices are not absolute. In all cases, the court must weigh up the total effective sentence with the overall criminality of the offending behaviour in order to determine a fair outcome.

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