Swift and Certain Approaches to Family Violence Sentencing

On 9 September 2016, the Council received a request from the Attorney-General, the Hon Martin Pakula, MP, to provide him with advice on the desirability of, and methods for accommodating, ‘swift and certain’ approaches to family violence offenders within Victoria’s sentencing regime.

The Council undertook preliminary consultation with government and non-government stakeholders within the criminal justice and family violence systems. Swift, Certain and Fair Approaches to Sentencing Family Violence Offenders: Discussion Paper was released in February 2017.

Terms of Reference

In March 2016, the Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended that the Sentencing Advisory Council report on the desirability of, and methods for accommodating, ‘swift and certain’ approaches to family violence offenders within Victoria’s sentencing regime.

The Royal Commission described the principles of a ‘swift and certain’ approach to include:

  • a clearly defined behavioural contract – that is, rules, clearly understandable to an offender, setting out the conditions of compliance and the consequences of non-compliance, so they perceive punishment as certain;
  • consistent application of these rules;
  • swift delivery of the consequences of non-compliance; and
  • parsimonious use of punishment – that is, the least amount of punishment necessary to bring about the desired behaviour change.

For the purposes of this reference, a family violence offender is a person who has been found guilty of committing a criminal offence in a family violence context.  ‘Family violence’ is defined in section 5 of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008.

The Council was asked to advise the Attorney-General on the desirability of ‘swift and certain’ approaches to the sentencing of family violence offenders in Victoria, having regard to the above principles and available empirical evidence. 

Should the government decide to introduce some form of ‘swift and certain’ justice, the Council was asked to advise on:

  • which specific approaches are preferred within the Victorian context;
  • whether there are particular groups of family violence offenders at which swift and certain approaches should be focused;
  • whether current laws and sentencing practice and procedure need to be modified to support preferred swift and certain approaches;
  • whether additional sentencing options are needed to support preferred swift and certain approaches;
  • the broad demand implications of any approach, or approaches, that the Council may consider desirable; and
  • any other related matter the Council considers appropriate.

The Council was asked to consult government and non-government stakeholders within the criminal justice and family violence systems and the Victorian community in the preparation of its advice. In particular, the Council was asked to consult with the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria Family Violence Taskforce.

The Council was asked to report back to the Attorney-General by no later than 29 August 2017. The advice is outlined in Swift, Certain and Fair Approaches to Sentencing Family Violence Offenders.