Sentencing Council Recommends Reforms to One of Victoria's Most Common Sentencing Orders

Media Release

Embargoed until 00:01 a.m. (AEST) Tuesday 27 June 2023

Adjourned undertakings – also known as good behaviour orders, or bonds – are the second most common sentence type (after fines) imposed in Victoria but they have not been reviewed since they were first introduced in 1985, almost 40 years ago. In its new report, the Sentencing Advisory Council has made 26 recommendations for their improvement.

Adjourned undertakings are a flexible community order that require offenders to be of good behaviour for a specified period (usually 12 months), and may also include additional conditions such as participating in rehabilitation programs or making charitable donations. In 2019 alone, over 17,000 adjourned undertakings were imposed in Victoria, accounting for 18% of all sentencing outcomes in Victorian adult courts.

The recommendations put forward in the report are the result of extensive data analysis, legal research, and two years of consultation with various stakeholders. Their overarching objective is to further enhance a sentencing order that is already highly regarded by those working within Victoria’s criminal justice system, better ensuring its effectiveness while avoiding any unintended consequences.

Some of the key recommendations are:

  • Renaming adjourned undertakings: To improve community understanding about the nature of these orders, the Council has recommended they be renamed as ‘good behaviour orders’.
  • Defining ‘good behaviour’: There is currently no definition of what it means to be of ‘good behaviour’ during an adjourned undertaking. The Council has recommended more clearly defining this as simply not committing further offences.
  • Payment conditions: Almost half of all adjourned undertakings have no special conditions attached to them (47%). When courts do attach special conditions, the most common is for the person to make a charitable donation, either directly to a specific charity or via what is known as the Court Fund (from which the Magistrates’ Court distributes money to charitable organisations). Together, there was almost $3 million in charitable donation conditions in 2019. The Council has made a number of recommendations relating to payment conditions of adjourned undertakings, including making sure that payments do not unfairly affect offenders with lower incomes.
  • Form reform: Many stakeholders observed that the form given to offenders who receive an adjourned undertaking is unnecessarily complex and difficult to understand. The Council has recommended that the Magistrates’ Court redesign the form so that it can be more easily understood by those who have to comply with the adjourned undertaking.
  • Decriminalising breaches: There is currently a distinct offence of breaching an adjourned undertaking, with a maximum penalty of a fine. The Council found the breach offence is rarely and inconsistently prosecuted, can have a significant effect on court resources, and does not add to the powers a court can exercise in response to breach behaviours. Following unanimous stakeholder support – from police, prosecutors, defence lawyers, offender support organisations, and others – the Council has recommended repealing the distinct breach offence.

Quotes Attributable to Council Chair Professor Marilyn McMahon

‘Adjourned undertakings serve a critical role in our justice system. They are designed for people who commit less serious offences, which make up most of the crime dealt with by courts. They are also designed for first-time offenders who are unlikely to reoffend. And they are designed for vulnerable and marginalised people who are less likely to reoffend if they access appropriate rehabilitation programs.

‘As the second most common sentence imposed in Victorian courts, adjourned undertakings are already working very well. They let people move on with their lives, and at the same time they make the community safer and save taxpayers’ money. Our 26 recommendations are simply designed to make this sentencing order work even better than it already is.’

Download the Consultation Paper, Written Submissions and Final Report

The Council’s consultation paper, released in August 2022, and the public submissions the Council received in response to that consultation paper are available on our website.

And the final report, Reforming Adjourned Undertakings in Victoria: Final Report, will be available on the Council’s website on the morning of Tuesday 27 June 2023.

About the Sentencing Advisory Council: the Council is an independent statutory authority established in 2004. It has a number of legislative functions, including conducting research on sentencing, consulting on sentencing matters, publishing sentencing statistics, and advising the Attorney-General on sentencing.