At the end of a sentencing hearing, the judge or magistrate summarises the case, imposes a sentence and outlines the reasons for the sentence. The judge or the magistrate makes their sentencing remarks in open court for anyone in the court, including media, to hear.
What Do Sentencing Remarks Contain?
Sentencing remarks often include:
- a summary of the offence, including aggravating and mitigating circumstances
- relevant factors about the offender, including their background and prospects for rehabilitation
- reference to the impact of the offence on any victim(s)
- reference to the purpose or purposes that the judge or magistrate intends the sentence to achieve.
When sentencing an offender who has pleaded guilty, the judge or magistrate usually includes a statement indicating what the sentence would have been had the offender not pleaded guilty. Such statements are required under section 6AAA of the Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic).
What Is the Purpose of Sentencing Remarks?
Judges and magistrates use sentencing remarks to explain the reasons for the sentence to those involved in a case. The remarks help offenders to understand why they have received a particular sentence. The remarks help the community, particularly the victim, to understand the process of sentencing.
The judge’s or magistrate’s reasons lets the defence and prosecution see how much their arguments have been understood and accepted as the basis for the judge’s or magistrate’s decision.
Reasons for a sentence can help influence how similar cases might be decided in future. In this way, sentencing remarks promote consistency in sentencing. They can also help an appellate court (a court that hears appeals) determine if any errors were made in the sentencing process.
Are Sentencing Remarks Made Available to the Public?
In the higher courts, judges give their sentencing remarks verbally at the sentencing hearing. The sentencing remarks are recorded and transcribed. Some judges may make written copies available at the hearing and may distribute these to the parties involved.
Supreme Court sentencing remarks are usually published on the Supreme Court website and/or the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) website. Similarly, significant County Court sentencing remarks are often published on the County Court website or AustLII.
For some high-profile cases, the higher courts will stream sentencing remarks via their respective websites, so that media and interested members of the community can hear the judge’s sentencing remarks delivered in court.
In the Magistrates’ Court, the magistrate’s sentencing remarks are recorded to audio but not transcribed. Recordings are retained for 12 months from the date of the hearing. Digital copies of recordings are available from the Magistrates’ Court for a fee.
In the Children’s Court, the magistrate gives their sentencing remarks verbally at the sentencing hearing. No transcripts of the hearings are published. The remarks are recorded to audio, and any party to the proceeding may apply for a copy. However, release of a recording requires the signed authorisation of a judicial officer and payment of a fee.
Legislation, suppression orders or other restrictions may mean that some sentencing remarks cannot be published. Where sentencing remarks are available, a court may remove personal data or identifying information.
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