Embargoed until 00:01 a.m. (AEDT) Tuesday 11 October 2022
The Sentencing Advisory Council has published a new consultation paper seeking stakeholder and community views on possible changes to ‘deferred sentencing’ – an order postponing sentence for the offender for up to 12 months.
Deferred sentencing allows courts to postpone an offender’s sentence after the offender has been found guilty of an offence. This enables the court to assess the offender’s capacity for rehabilitation, and allows the offender to demonstrate that rehabilitation has taken place, to participate in programs aimed at addressing the underlying causes of their offending, or to participate in restorative justice or similar programs. Sentence deferral has been available in the Victorian Magistrates’ Court since 2000 and in the County Court since 2012.
In the right cases, deferring sentence can be very effective. When offenders use the opportunity to its fullest, it can show courts that the offender is serious about doing something to stop their offending, which can make the community safer in the long term. The deferral period can be a useful time to facilitate restorative justice processes between the offender and any victims. Deferred sentencing can also be especially useful for offenders who are pregnant or who are primary caregivers to give them the time they need to make appropriate arrangements for their children.
Despite these potential benefits, deferred sentencing does not seem to be frequently used. The Council found 3,507 recorded sentence deferrals in the Magistrates’ Court in the eight years from 2012 to 2019. This amounts to 0.4% of all sentenced cases in the Magistrates’ Court in that period.
The consultation paper asks 14 questions about possible reforms to deferred sentencing. Should courts have to consider the interests of the victim before deferring sentence? How do we, as a community, make sure appropriate programs will be available? How should an offender’s behaviour during deferral affect their sentence? And how do we make sure deferral doesn’t become another way of entrenching people in the justice system?
The Council is interested in hearing from those who work in the justice system, those with lived experience of the criminal justice system, as well as members of the general community.
Submissions will be open until Friday 2 December 2022. The Council will then review the submissions, develop options for reform, test those options at a series of roundtables in early 2023, and then submit a final report with recommendations to the Attorney-General in 2023.
Quotes Attributable to Council Chair Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg AM
‘One of the biggest challenges in the criminal justice system is how to tackle the causes of criminal behaviour to prevent future crime.’
‘Sentence deferral gives offenders the opportunity to show that they won’t reoffend. It is easy for offenders to make promises about what they’ll do in the future, but deferred sentencing lets courts see how serious offenders are about keeping those promises. Used the right way in the right cases, deferred sentencing can tackle the causes of crime, prevent more serious offending later, save the community millions of dollars, and ultimately make Victoria safer.’
‘Starting today, the Council is inviting submissions in response to the questions raised in the consultation paper, not just from the legal profession but from people with lived experiences of the criminal justice system as well as people in the broader community.’
Reforming Sentence Deferrals in Victoria: Consultation Paper will be available on the Council’s website on the morning of Tuesday 11 October 2022.
Submissions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.