Only 3% of Sentences from Victoria’s Higher Courts Change on Appeal

Media Release

Embargoed until 10 p.m. (AEST) Tuesday 14 August 2018

97% of sentences imposed in Victoria’s County and Supreme Courts are either not challenged or not changed on appeal, with less than 1% of sentences increased on appeal and just over 2% decreased on appeal, a new report from the Sentencing Advisory Council has found.

The Sentencing Advisory Council examined appeals against sentences originally imposed in Victoria’s higher courts in 2013–14. Of the 1,910 sentences, 230 were appealed, the majority by the offender (91%) and the remainder by the Crown. Excluding conviction appeals, less than one-third of offenders who appealed against their sentence were successful (44 out of 153 cases), while the Crown was successful in more than two-thirds of its appeals (16 out of 23 cases).

The most common principal proven offence (the most serious offence in the case) in offender sentence appeals included drug offences (43 cases) and acts intended to cause injury (28 cases). The same was true in Crown appeals (7 cases of drug offences and 4 cases of acts intended to cause injury).

The likelihood of an offender or the Crown appealing a sentence increased as the length of the sentence increased, as did the likelihood of the appeal being successful. Offenders successfully appealed 2% of all cases with imprisonment terms of less than five years (15 of 890 cases), but they successfully appealed 19% of cases with imprisonment terms of 10 years or more (12 of 64 cases).

The report also found a number of changes in the nature of sentence appeals since the Sentencing Advisory Council’s previous review from 2012. For example:

  • the proportion of sentence appeals initiated by the Crown decreased from 20% to 10%
  • the Crown’s success rate increased from 52% to 70%
  • the proportion of offender sentence appeals in which leave to appeal was granted decreased from 60% to 50%.

Since the previous review, there has been a substantial reduction in both the number of pending criminal appeals and the time taken to finalise them. The number of pending criminal appeals dropped from 404 to 170 in the six years to 2016–17, and the median time to finalise sentence appeals more than halved, from just over a year to less than six months.

Quotes Attributable to Council Chair Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg

‘This report confirms a consistent finding about sentencing in Victoria: courts are, for the most part, getting it right. Earlier this year, the Chief Judge of the County Court said that less than 1% of sentences are increased on appeal, as this report confirms. Not only that, but 97% of sentences imposed in the higher courts were either unchallenged or unchanged on appeal.

‘Due to a number of reforms instituted by the Court of Appeal in recent years, the court has also achieved a substantial reduction in the number of pending criminal appeals, as well as the time taken to finalise those matters.

‘There have been a number of changes to sentencing in Victoria in the last 12 months. The government introduced standard sentences in February, and in October the High Court changed the way Victorian courts take current sentencing practices into account. This report, together with the Sentencing Advisory Council’s 2012 appeals report, will be invaluable points of comparison in helping to understand the effect of those reforms.’

What Is Studied in the New Report?

The report focuses on appeals against sentence and excludes appeals against conviction. The year 2013–14 was used to allow a two-and-a-half-year follow-up of cases appealed and finalised by 31 December 2016. The number of appeals initiated and finalised each year has remained relatively stable since 2013–14.