Baseline Sentences

The Council was requested by the Attorney-General to provide its advice on the introduction of baseline sentences. The request for advice related to baseline sentences of imprisonment for ‘serious’ offences as defined in the Sentencing Act 1991 and ‘significant’ offences as defined in the Sentencing Further Amendment Bill 2010.

The Terms of Reference for the Baseline Sentences Project

The government was committed to introducing baseline sentences in the following terms:

  • Baseline sentences will apply for serious offences as defined in the Sentencing Act 1991 and for additional offences such as arson, recklessly causing serious injury, aggravated burglary and major drug trafficking.
  • Baseline sentences will provide the starting point for the court in determining the minimum sentence (i.e., non-parole period) to be imposed in cases where a baseline sentence applies, and will indicate the sentence that the parliament expects will be the median or mid-point of minimum sentences imposed for cases involving that offence.
  • In determining the non-parole period to be served by the offender, the court will be required to start from the baseline minimum sentence before applying aggravating or mitigating factors that would alter the non-parole period up or down from the baseline.
  • Where a baseline sentence applies, the appropriateness of a non-parole period is to be assessed on appeal primarily by reference to the applicable baseline sentence, rather than by reference to current sentencing practice.
  • The baseline sentencing regime is to operate so that, over time, the Court of Appeal will be able to determine whether or not the median levels of minimum sentences being handed down are in fact aligned with the baseline sentences specified by parliament and, if not, to require changes accordingly in sentencing practices.

The government stated by way of example that a 10 year baseline sentence should apply to the offence of trafficking in a large commercial quantity of drugs, and a 20 year baseline sentence should apply to the offence of murder.

The Council was requested to provide advice on the following matters:

  • the levels of baseline sentence to be legislated for offences to which the baseline sentencing regime will apply
  • whether offences additional to those committed to by the government should be included, either in the initial introduction of baseline sentences or subsequently
  • whether the legislation should provide for different levels of baseline sentence for a particular offence to be applicable in different circumstances, or for certain offences to be redefined to achieve better applicability of baseline sentences in different circumstances
  • how baseline sentences should best apply in cases involving multiple offences
  • the amendments required to relevant legislation to introduce baseline sentencing
  • the likely effects of recommendations and options put forward by the Council on sentencing levels for the relevant offences and on the numbers of persons serving custodial and non-custodial sentences
  • any other matters the Council considers relevant.

The Council was requested to report in early 2012.

The Council prepared a brief issues paper and invited submissions on the questions raised therein. The Council received 15 submissions. Public submissions are available on this website.

The Council's Baseline Sentencing Report is available for viewing and download from this website.