Key Events for Sentencing in Victoria

2017 Reforms are introduced to restrict the use of community correction orders (and other non-custodial orders) in Victoria. The maximum length of a community correction order is reduced to 5 years, and the maximum term of imprisonment that can be combined with a community correction order is reduced to 1 year. Courts are no longer able to use community correction orders (and other non-custodial orders) for some offences, such as rape, cultivation of a large commercial quantity of a narcotic plant and causing serious injury intentionally in circumstances of gross violence. Courts can only use community correction orders (and other non-custodial orders) for some offences such as manslaughter, kidnapping and causing injury intentionally where there are special reasons for doing so.

2017 The Victorian Drug Court is expanded to Melbourne.

2016 The Crimes Legislation Amendment Act 2016 (Vic) introduces statutory minimum sentences for people who attack a custodial officer.

2016 The Royal Commission into Family Violence hands down its report containing 227 recommendations directed at improving the foundations of the current system, including court-based responses to family violence in Victoria, and holding perpetrators to account.

2015   The Court of Appeal finds that the baseline sentencing provisions in the Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) are ‘incapable of being given any practical operation’ and therefore are unenforceable.

2015   The Supreme Court hands down the first sentence under Victoria’s baseline sentencing scheme.

2014   The Court of Appeal gives Victoria’s first guideline judgment on the imposition of community correction orders.

2014   The Justice Legislation Amendment (Confiscation and Other Matters) Act 2014 clarifies the maximum periods for community correction orders imposed in the Magistrates’ Court.

2014   The Sentencing Amendment (Coward’s Punch Manslaughter and Other Matters) Act 2014 introduces a statutory minimum sentence (a non-parole period of at least 10 years) for adults convicted of manslaughter when committed by a single punch or in circumstances of gross violence.

2014   The Sentencing Amendment (Emergency Workers) Act 2014 provides that a community correction order can be combined with a term of imprisonment of up to two years, and that a community correction order may be considered an appropriate sentence in cases where a wholly suspended sentence may have been imposed previously.

2014   The Sentencing Amendment (Emergency Workers) Act 2014 increases the severity of sentences for violent offences committed against emergency workers and creates a baseline offence for the murder of an emergency worker.

2014   The Sentencing Amendment (Baseline Sentences) Act 2014 introduces baseline sentencing for seven offences: culpable driving causing death; incest with a child, step child, or lineal descendant (under 18 years); incest with the child, step-child, or lineal descendant (under 18 years) of a de facto spouse; persistent sexual abuse of a child under 16; sexual penetration of a child under 12; trafficking in a large commercial quantity of a drug of dependence; and murder.

2014   After a gradual phasing out, suspended sentences are abolished in Victoria for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2014.

2013   The Crimes Amendment (Gross Violence Offences) Act 2013 introduces non-parole periods of at least 4 years for a number of offences involving serious personal injury in circumstances of gross violence.

2013   The Sentencing Amendment (Abolition of Suspended Sentences and Other Matters) Act 2013 introduces the staged removal of suspended sentences from all courts in Victoria.

2013   The Court of Appeal considers whether to give Victoria’s first guideline judgment.

2012   Major changes to sentencing in Victoria come into effect in January 2012. The opportunity for deferred sentencing is expanded. A new community correction order is created, replacing the community-based order, the intensive correction order, and the combined custody and treatment order. Home detention is abolished as an option for sentencing or parole.

2011   Suspended sentences are abolished as a sentencing option in the Supreme and County Courts for 'serious' or 'significant' offences committed on or after 1 May 2011.

2010   The Sentencing Act 1991 is amended to expand the use of deferred sentences to the County Court.

2009   The Criminal Procedure Act 2009 changes the way that the Court of Appeal considers applications for leave (permission) to appeal against a sentence. The Act eliminates the principle of 'sentencing double jeopardy' as a consideration in sentence appeals.

2009   The Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Act 2009 repeals the Serious Sex Offenders (Monitoring) Act 2005 and provides for both detention and supervision of sex offenders. 

2008   The Sentencing Act 1991 is amended by the Criminal Procedure Legislations Amendment Act 2008 requiring that, where an offender pleads guilty, the court must state the sentence it would have imposed but for the guilty plea.

2008   The Criminal Procedure Legislation Amendment Act 2008 introduces a pilot sentence indication scheme. The scheme is later incorporated in the Criminal Procedure Act 2009.

2007   The Neighbourhood Justice Centre opens, applying principles of restorative and therapeutic justice.

2006   The Koori Court is expanded to the County Court.

2006   Home detention is confirmed as a sentencing option.

2005   The Sentencing (Further Amendment) Act 2005 enhances the role of victims in sentencing, requiring courts to consider the impact of an offence on any victim and to provide for Victim Impact Statements to be read out loud in sentencing hearings.

2005   The Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 commences operation. The Act sets out the principles and considerations for sentencing young offenders.

2005   The Serious Sex Offenders Monitoring Act 2005 introduces extended supervision orders for sex offenders whose jail sentences have expired but who are still considered at high risk of reoffending.

2004   A family violence division of the Magistrates’ Court is established.

2004   The Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004 introduces the Victorian sex offenders registration scheme.

2004   The Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council commences operation. The Council’s mission is to ‘bridge the gap between the community, the courts, and the government by informing, educating, and advising on sentencing issues’.

2004   Home detention is piloted.

2004   The Sentencing Act 1991 is amended to create the superannuation order, a new confiscation order.

2003   The Sentencing Act 1991 is amended to establish the Sentencing Advisory Council and make provision for guideline judgments.

2002   The Pathways to Justice review of Victorian sentencing law recommends establishing a Sentencing Advisory Council in Victoria.

2002   The Victorian Drug Court Division of the Magistrates’ Court begins operation. The drug treatment order is introduced.

2002   The Koori Court is established as a division of the Magistrates' Court. The Koori Court sentences Indigenous offenders who consent to appear in the court and admit the facts of an offence.

1999   The Sentencing Act 1991 is amended to expand the use of deferred sentences from the Children’s Court to the Magistrates’ Court.

1998   The Sentencing Act 1991 is amended to introduce the combined custody and treatment order.

1998   The Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act 1997 commences operation, abolishing the Governor’s pleasure regime and establishing new procedures for determining unfitness to stand trial, the defence of mental impairment, and a process for dealing with people found unfit to be tried or found not guilty because of mental impairment.

1997   The Sentencing Act 1991 is amended to:

  • replace conditional suspended sentences with a new combined custody and treatment order for alcohol and drug dependent persons
  • permit aggregate sentences of imprisonment in the Magistrates’ Court
  • increase maximum penalties for crimes under the Crimes Act 1958.

1997   The Confiscation Act 1997 commences operation. The Act relates to the proceeds, property, and value of benefits of crime.

1997   Amendments to the Sentencing Act 1991 authorise a five-fold increase in maximum monetary penalties for corporate offenders.

1994   The Sentencing Act 1991 and the Children and Young Persons Act 1989 are amended to allow for a court to consider Victim Impact Statements and to require consideration of victims’ interests as part of the statutory sentencing guidelines.

1994   The Court of Appeal is created to hear appeal cases from the Supreme Court and other jurisdictions.

1993   The Sentencing Act 1991 is amended to require community protection to be placed ahead of proportionality in sentencing certain groups of offenders.  The concept of an indefinite sentence is introduced.

1992   The intensive correction order comes into effect as a substitute for imprisonment.

1991   The Sentencing Act 1991 commences operation. The Act sets out sentencing principles and the hierarchy of sanctions for sentencing adult offenders in Victoria.  The Act incorporates a new 14 point general scale of statutory maximum penalties applied to offences in the Crimes Act 1958. It also introduces intensive correction orders.

1989   The Children and Young Persons Act 1989 establishes the present Children’s Court of Victoria, which had previously operated as a division of the Magistrates’ Court.

1989   The Sentencing Task Force, led by Frank Costigan QC, is established to review statutory maximum penalties.

1989   The Magistrates’ Court Act 1989 establishes the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria (formerly the Court of Petty Sessions).

1988   The Victorian Sentencing Committee’s report on sentencing policy and practice is tabled in the Victorian Parliament. The report contains a comprehensive set of recommendations and a draft Penalties and Sentences Bill, and it recommends a review of statutory maximum penalties.

1987   The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody begins. Reports prepared by the Commission highlight many deficiencies in the treatment of Aboriginal peoples by the justice system and the disproportionate overrepresentation of Aboriginal prisoners in Australia.

1987   The new Crimes (Family Violence) Act 1987 creates a scheme of intervention orders to protect victims of violence in the home.

1986   The Road Safety Act 1986 introduces increased penalties and immediate licence suspension for certain offences.

1986   The Penalties and Sentences Act 1985 is amended to introduce community-based orders, replacing the community service order.

1986   The Crimes (Confiscation of Profits) Act 1986 provides for the confiscation of profits of crime, the freezing of assets, and the forfeiture of property used in connection with crime.

1986   The British Parliament passes the Australia Act 1986 terminating its power to legislate on Australian and Victorian affairs.

1985   The Penalties and Sentences Act 1985 commences operation. The Act introduces suspended sentences and confirms imprisonment as a sentence of ‘last resort’.

1985   The Penalties and Sentences Act 1981 is amended to permit courts to take remissions into account in sentencing.

1985   The Victorian Sentencing Committee is established to review sentencing policy and practice in Victoria.

1985   The Full Bench of the Supreme Court of Victoria is specially convened to consider whether to overturn the previous rule that neither a sentencing court nor an appellate court could take into account the possibility of sentencing remissions when determining the inadequacy of a prison sentence.  The Full Bench upholds the rule.  This case, R v Yates [1985] VR 41, is considered to be the genesis of the Sentencing Act 1991.

1984   Youth attendance orders are introduced for offenders aged under 21 years.

1984   The Office of Corrections is established in Victoria.

1983   Victoria becomes the first Australian jurisdiction to have a Director of Public Prosecutions.

1983   The Prisoners (Interstate Transfer) Act 1983 and corresponding legislation in other states and the Commonwealth allow prisoners to be transferred interstate to complete their sentence.

1983   The Penalties and Sentences Act 1981 is amended to remove hard and light labour with imprisonment.

1982   Community service orders are piloted in Victoria.

1981   The Penalties and Sentences Act 1981 commences operation, establishing the community service order.

1981   The Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 comes into effect. The Act outlines penalties for drug trafficking, importation, and possession offences.

1980   Court Network volunteers begin helping court visitors with general information and support.

1979   The Sentencing Alternatives Committee of Victoria recommends introducing community service as a sanction.

1978   Victoria Legal Aid is established.

1975   The Social Welfare (Amendment) Act 1975 introduces periodic detention at attendance centres as an alternative to imprisonment for adults.

1975   Changes to Victoria’s Constitution means it now exists as an Act of the Parliament of Victoria.

1975   Capital punishment is abolished in Victoria.

1974   The Alcoholics and Drug-Dependent Person Act 1968 commences operation. The Act provides for drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation.

1973   Capital punishment is abolished under Commonwealth law.

1968   The jurisdiction of the County Court is expanded to include criminal matters in addition to civil cases. 

1967   The last man legally executed in Australia, Ronald Ryan, is hanged in Pentridge Prison in Melbourne.

1966   The Summary Offences Act 1966 commences operation. The Act gives penalties for less serious offences.

1960   The Social Welfare Act 1960 introduces youth training centres and the Youth Parole Board.

1958   The Crimes Act 1958 commences operation. The Act includes sentences for indictable offences and provisions for bail and parole.

1957   The County Court Act 1957 is amended to create a County Court ‘in and for’ the State of Victoria.

1956   The Penal Reform Act 1956 introduces adult probation and the Adult Parole Board to Victoria. The Indeterminate Sentences Board is abolished.

1914   The Criminal Appeal Act 1914 allows offenders to have their sentences reviewed in a higher court.

1907   The Indeterminate Sentences Act 1907 allows habitual criminals aged over 17 years to be detained ‘at the Governor’s pleasure’ in reformatory prison. The Indeterminate Sentences Board is established to manage indeterminate sentences.

1906   The Children’s Court is established. The court is introduced at every place where a Court of Petty Sessions (later the Magistrates’ Court) is held. The jurisdiction of the court applies to children aged under 17 years.

1901   New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia, and Victoria become a federation of states in the new Commonwealth of Australia.

1891   Following a land boom, Victoria’s economy crashes. Depression leads to widespread unemployment. Banks fail, and thousands of people lose their possessions.

1890   The Crimes Act 1890 ‘consolidates the law’ in relation to criminal offences in Victoria.

1887   The Juvenile Offenders Act 1887 allows for young offenders (aged under 21 years) to be released on probation (it is another 70 years before probation is introduced for adult offenders). The Act states when young people are to be committed to reformatory school.

1880   Ned Kelly is hanged in Melbourne Gaol.

1872   The Inebriates Act 1872 provides for the treatment and cure of habitual users of alcohol.

1868   The last convicts are transported to Australia. The last convict ship, the Hougoumont, arrives in Western Australia.

1864   The Criminal Law and Practice Statute 1864 gives the punishments for indictable and summary offences. Penalties include death (for murder), imprisonment (with or without hard or light labour), solitary confinement, whipping, and fines. The benefit of clergy, which enables first-time offenders to seek a more lenient sanction, is abolished.

1860   An Act for the Remission of Penalties and the Discharge of Persons from Imprisonment in Certain Cases 1860 clarifies when offenders may be discharged from prison in Victoria.

1855   The Victorian Constitution Act 1855 is given royal assent.

1852   The Supreme Court of Victoria is established, replacing the court of the resident judge at Port Phillip.

1852   The County Courts Act 1852 establishes County Courts in Victoria.  The jurisdiction of County Courts is limited to small civil claims.  The courts are established in various locations in Victoria, and each court has a resident judge.

1851   The discovery of gold near Ballarat is announced. A gold rush begins bringing hundreds of thousands of fortune-seekers from all over the world to Victoria.

1851   The Colony of Victoria gains separation from New South Wales. Melbourne is declared its capital.

1850   Convict transportation to New South Wales is abolished.

1841   Building begins on Melbourne Gaol.

1840   A division of the New South Wales Supreme Court, with a resident judge, is established at Port Phillip.

1839   The Court of Petty Sessions sits regularly in Victoria.

1837   The Governor of New South Wales gives the settlement at the northern end of Port Phillip Bay the name ‘Melbourne’.

1836   Port Philip District of New South Wales is opened for settlement.

1835   John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner unofficially found Melbourne (first known as Bearbrass).

1834   Victoria’s first permanent settlement is established in Portland.

1826   White settlers, including convicts, establish themselves at Westernport.  The convicts are assigned to the Police Magistrate for the Port Philip District to carry out government work.

1803   White settlers with approximately 300 male convicts establish themselves at Sorrento. The settlement is abandoned the following year.

1788   The Colony of New South Wales is established. The first criminal trials are heard in the Court of Criminal Jurisdiction at Port Jackson. Sentencing options include execution, flogging with a cat of nine tails, and confinement in irons on limited provisions.

1787   Transportation of convicts from England to Australia begins. The New South Wales Courts Act 1787 establishes Australia’s first criminal court.

Selected Sources

Australasian Legal Information Institute, Victorian Historical Act 1851–1995

Richard Fox and Arie Freiberg, Sentencing: State and Federal Law in Victoria (Oxford University Press, 1985)

Arie Freiberg and Karen Gelb (eds), Penal Populism, Sentencing Councils and Sentencing Policy (Hawkins Press, 2008)

Arie Freiberg and Stuart Ross, Sentencing Reform and Penal Change: The Victorian Experience (The Federation Press, 1999)

Judicial College of Victoria, Victorian Sentencing Manual (2005–)

State Government of Victoria, Victorian Legislation and Parliamentary Documents

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