Sentencing Snapshot 278: Sentencing Trends for Obtaining a Financial Advantage by Deception in the Higher Courts of Victoria 2017-18 to 2021-22

Date of Publication

Sentencing Snapshot no. 278 describes sentencing outcomes for the offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception in the County and Supreme Courts of Victoria from 2017-18 to 2021-22.

This is the most recent Snapshot for this offence.

You can access case summaries for deception offences from the Judicial College of Victoria’s Sentencing Manual Case Summaries.

You can also access statistics for obtaining a financial advantage by deception on SACStat.

Authored and published by the Sentencing Advisory Council
© State of Victoria, Sentencing Advisory Council, 2023


Snapshot 278: Obtaining Financial Advantage by Deception

Introduction

This Sentencing Snapshot describes sentencing outcomes[1] for the offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception in the County and Supreme Courts of Victoria (the higher courts) from 2017-18 to 2021-22.[2] Adjustments made by the Court of Appeal to sentence or conviction as at December 2022 have been incorporated into the data in this Snapshot.

Detailed data on obtaining a financial advantage by deception and other offences is available on Sentencing Advisory Council Statistics (SACStat).

A person who, by any deception, dishonestly obtains any financial advantage for themselves or another person is guilty of obtaining a financial advantage by deception. Obtaining a financial advantage by deception is an indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 1,200 penalty units.[3] It can be tried summarily in the Magistrates' Court if certain criteria are met.[4]

This Snapshot focuses on cases where obtaining a financial advantage by deception was the principal offence, that is, cases where obtaining a financial advantage by deception was the offence that received the most severe sentence.[5]

Obtaining a financial advantage by deception was the principal offence in 1.7% of cases sentenced in the higher courts between 2017-18 and 2021-22.


Effect of COVID-19 on sentencing data

The data in this Snapshot is likely to have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance:

  • the number of people sentenced since March 2020 may be lower than in previous years because the pandemic caused delays in court proceedings;
  • court backlogs may have led to prioritisation of more serious cases and therefore higher imprisonment rates than in previous years;
  • prison sentences may be shorter than in previous years to reflect the combined effect of:
    1. guilty pleas having an 'augmented mitigatory effect' (Worboyes v The Queen [2021] VSCA 169) because they help to relieve the strain on the justice system; and
    2. the experience of prison being more burdensome due to increased stress on prisoners and their families and changes in custodial conditions.

People sentenced

From 2017-18 to 2021-22, 145 people were sentenced in the higher courts for a principal offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception.

Figure 1 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception by financial year. There were 18 people sentenced for this offence in 2021-22, down by 8 people from the previous year. The number of people sentenced was highest in 2018-19 (41 people) and lowest in 2021-22 (18 people).

Figure 1: The number of people sentenced for obtaining a financial advantage by deception by financial year

Financial year Number
2017-18 25
2018-19 41
2019-20 35
2020-21 26
2021-22 18
Total 145

Sentence types and trends

Figure 2 shows the proportion of people who received an immediate custodial sentence or non-custodial sentence for the principal offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception.

Figure 2: The percentage of people who received an immediate custodial sentence or non-custodial sentence for obtaining a financial advantage by deception by financial year

Financial year Immediate custodial sentence Non-custodial sentence
2017-18 56.0% 44.0%
2018-19 61.0% 39.0%
2019-20 71.4% 28.6%
2020-21 84.6% 15.4%
2021-22 83.3% 16.7%

An immediate custodial sentence involves at least some element of immediate imprisonment or detention.[6] Over the five-year period, 62.8% of people were given an immediate custodial sentence. The rate of immediate custodial sentences increased from 56.0% in 2017-18 to 84.6% in 2020-21. The proportion of people who received a custodial sentence in 2021-22 was 83.3%.

Table 1 shows the principal sentence types imposed for obtaining a financial advantage by deception from 2017-18 to 2021-22. The principal sentence is the most serious sentence type imposed for the principal offence.[7] Over the five-year period, most people sentenced for obtaining a financial advantage by deception received a principal sentence of imprisonment (60.7%, or 88 of 145 people). Other principal sentences (12.4%, or 18 people) were 14 wholly suspended sentences of imprisonment, 3 partially suspended sentences of imprisonment and 1 fine.

Table 1: The number and percentage of people sentenced for obtaining a financial advantage by deception by principal sentence type and financial year

Sentence type 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 Total
Imprisonment 14 (56.0%) 24 (58.5%) 24 (68.6%) 14 (53.8%) 11 (61.1%) 88 (60.7%)
Community correction order 7 (28.0%) 11 (26.8%) 6 (17.1%) 9 (34.6%) 6 (33.3%) 39 (26.9%)
Other 4 (16.0%) 6 (14.6%) 5 (14.3%) 3 (11.5%) 0 (0.0%) 18 (12.4%)
Total people sentenced 25 41 35 26 18 145

Principal and total effective sentences of imprisonment

The following sections analyse the use of imprisonment for the offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception from 2017-18 to 2021-22.

The principal sentence applies to a single offence at a charge level.

The total effective sentence is the sentence imposed for all charges in a case and applies at a case level. Where a case involves multiple charges, the total effective sentence will be either the same as or longer than the principal sentence.

Principal sentences of imprisonment

There were 88 people who received a principal sentence of imprisonment for the offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception. Of these, 64 people received a non-aggregate imprisonment term (72.7%), that is, the imprisonment term was not part of an aggregate sentence, and 24 people received an aggregate imprisonment term.[8] There were 20 people who received a community correction order in addition to their imprisonment term (22.7%).

Table 2: The number and percentage of people sentenced to imprisonment for obtaining a financial advantage by deception by sentence type and financial year

Type of imprisonment sentence 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 Total
Imprisonment 11 (78.6%) 19 (79.2%) 14 (58.3%) 6 (42.9%) 8 (66.7%) 58 (65.9%)
Imprisonment and community correction order (combined) 0 (0.0%) 1 (4.2%) 3 (12.5%) 2 (14.3%) 0 (0.0%) 6 (6.8%)
Total non-aggregate imprisonment 11 (78.6%) 20 (83.3%) 17 (70.8%) 8 (57.1%) 8 (66.7%) 64 (72.7%)
Aggregate imprisonment 2 (14.3%) 1 (4.2%) 3 (12.5%) 2 (14.3%) 2 (16.7%) 10 (11.4%)
Aggregate imprisonment and community correction order (combined) 1 (7.1%) 3 (12.5%) 4 (16.7%) 4 (28.6%) 1 (8.3%) 14 (15.9%)
Total aggregate imprisonment 3 (21.4%) 4 (16.7%) 7 (29.2%) 6 (42.9%) 4 (33.3%) 24 (27.3%)
Total people sentenced to imprisonment 14 24 24 14 12 88

Figure 3 shows the lengths of imprisonment imposed for the principal offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception for the 64 people who received a non-aggregate imprisonment term. Imprisonment terms ranged from 4 months to 6 years,[9] while the median length of imprisonment was 2 years and 1 month (meaning that half of the imprisonment terms were below 2 years and 1 month and half were above).

The most common range of imprisonment term lengths was 2 to less than 3 years (21 people).

Figure 3: The number of principal sentences of imprisonment for obtaining a financial advantage by deception, by range of imprisonment lengths, 2017-18 to 2021-22

Imprisonment length Number
Less than 1 year 7
1 to less than 2 years 15
2 to less than 3 years 21
3 to less than 4 years 11
4 to less than 5 years 4
5 to less than 6 years 4
6 to less than 7 years 2
Total 64

Figure 4 shows that the average lengths of imprisonment for obtaining a financial advantage by deception ranged from 2 years and 3 months (in 2018-19 and 2019-20) to 2 years and 9 months (in 2021-22). Over the five years, the average length of imprisonment for obtaining a financial advantage by deception was 2 years and 6 months.

Figure 4: The average length of imprisonment imposed for obtaining a financial advantage by deception, by financial year

Financial year Number Average
2017-18 11 2 years and 6 months
2018-19 20 2 years and 3 months
2019-20 17 2 years and 3 months
2020-21 8 2 years and 7 months
2021-22 8 2 years and 9 months

Total effective sentences of imprisonment

Figure 5 shows the lengths of total effective sentences of imprisonment imposed in cases with obtaining a financial advantage by deception as the principal offence. Total effective sentences ranged from 5 months to 10 years and 1 month,[10] while the median total effective sentence was 2 years and 9 months (meaning that half of the total effective sentences were below 2 years and 9 months and half were above).

The most common range of total effective sentences was 2 to less than 3 years (20 people).

Figure 5: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for obtaining a financial advantage by deception by length of total effective sentence, 2017-18 to 2021-22

Total effective imprisonment length Number
Less than 1 year 18
1 to less than 2 years 9
2 to less than 3 years 20
3 to less than 4 years 16
4 to less than 5 years 7
5 to less than 6 years 8
6 to less than 7 years 1
7 to less than 8 years 4
8 to less than 9 years 2
9 to less than 10 years 2
10 to less than 11 years 1
Total 88

Non-parole periods

If a person is sentenced to an immediate imprisonment term of less than 1 year, the court cannot impose a non-parole period. For terms between 1 year and less than 2 years, the court has the discretion to fix a non-parole period. For terms of imprisonment of 2 years or more, the court must impose a non-parole period in most circumstances. If the court fixes a non-parole period, the person must serve that period before becoming eligible for parole. If the court does not set a non-parole period, the person must serve the entirety of their imprisonment term in custody.

Of the 88 people who were sentenced to imprisonment for obtaining a financial advantage by deception, 18 were not eligible to have a non-parole period imposed because their total effective sentence was less than one year. Of the 70 people who were eligible to have a non-parole period fixed, 66 were given a non-parole period (94.3%).[11]

Figure 6 shows the non-parole periods in cases where the principal offence was obtaining a financial advantage by deception. Non-parole periods ranged from 6 months to 7 years, while the median non-parole period was 2 years (meaning that half of the non-parole periods were below 2 years and half were above). There were 22 people sentenced to imprisonment for obtaining a financial advantage by deception who did not have a non-parole period imposed.

The most common range of non-parole periods was 1 to less than 2 years (24 people).

Note that it was not possible to determine the length of the non-parole period for one person.[12]

Figure 6: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for obtaining a financial advantage by deception by length of non-parole period, 2017-18 to 2021-22

Non-parole period Number
Less than 1 year 4
1 to less than 2 years 24
2 to less than 3 years 21
3 to less than 4 years 7
4 to less than 5 years 2
5 to less than 6 years 4
6 to less than 7 years 2
7 to less than 8 years 1
Undetermined 1
No non-parole period 22
Total 88

Average total effective sentences of imprisonment and non-parole periods

Figure 7 shows the average total effective sentences and non-parole periods for the 67 people who were sentenced to imprisonment for obtaining a financial advantage by deception.

From 2017-18 to 2021-22, the average total effective sentence ranged from 3 years and 7 months in 2017-18 to 4 years and 11 months in 2020-21. Over the same period, the average non-parole period ranged from 2 years in 2021-22 to 2 years and 10 months in 2020-21.

Figure 7: The average total effective sentences and non-parole periods for people sentenced to imprisonment with a non-parole period for obtaining a financial advantage by deception, by financial year

Financial year Number Average total effective sentence length Average non-parole period
2017-18 13 3 years and 7 months 2 years and 2 months
2018-19 19 3 years and 10 months 2 years and 3 months
2019-20 16 4 years and 2 months 2 years and 6 months
2020-21 8 4 years and 11 months 2 years and 10 months
2021-22 10 3 years and 8 months 2 years and 0 months

Other offences finalised at the same hearing

Sometimes people prosecuted for obtaining a financial advantage by deception face multiple charges, which are finalised at the same hearing. This section looks at the range of offences that offenders were sentenced for alongside the principal offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception.

Figure 8 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception by the total number of sentenced offences per person. The number of sentenced offences per person ranged from 1 to 101, and the median was 3 offences. There was 21 people (14.5%) sentenced for the single offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception. The average number of offences per person was 7.5.

Figure 8: The number of people sentenced for the principal offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception by the number of sentenced offences per person, 2017-18 to 2021-22

Number of offences Number of people
1 21
2 33
3 19
4 10
5-9 28
10-19 23
20-49 10
50-99 0
100+ 1
Total 145

Table 3 shows the 10 most common offences, by number and percentage, for people sentenced for obtaining a financial advantage by deception. The last column sets out the average number of offences sentenced per person. For example, 23 of the total 145 people (15.9%) also received sentences for attempting to obtain a financial advantage by deception. On average, those 23 people were sentenced for 1.4 charges of attempting to obtain a financial advantage by deception per case.

Table 3: The number and percentage of people sentenced for the principal offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception by the most common offences that were sentenced alongside obtaining a financial advantage by deception, 2017-18 to 2021-22

Offence Number of cases Percentage of cases Average number of proven offences per case
1. Obtaining a financial advantage by deception 145 100.0% 5.4
2. Attempting to obtain a financial advantage by deception 23 15.9% 1.4
3. Theft 19 13.1% 5.7
4. Obtaining property by deception 16 11.0% 2.5
5. Make a false document to prejudice of other 9 6.2% 2.7
6. Use a false document to prejudice of other 7 4.8% 2.1
7. Possess a drug of dependence 7 4.8% 1.3
8. Deal with suspected proceeds of crime 5 3.4% 3.6
9. Attempting to obtain property by deception 3 2.1% 2.3
10. Commit an indictable offence while on bail 3 2.1% 1.0
Total 145 100.0% 7.5

Summary

From 2017-18 to 2021-22, 145 people were sentenced for obtaining a financial advantage by deception in the higher courts. Of these, 88 (60.7%) received a principal sentence of imprisonment.

The median total effective sentence of imprisonment was 2 years and 9 months, while the median principal sentence of imprisonment was 2 years and 1 month. On average, people sentenced for obtaining a financial advantage by deception were sentenced for 7.5 offences each, with a maximum of 101 offences.

Total effective sentences of imprisonment ranged from 5 months to 10 years and 1 month, and non-parole periods ranged from 6 months to 7 years.

Further data on this offence is available on SACStat.

Endnotes

1. This Sentencing Snapshot is an update of Sentencing Snapshot no. 254, which describes sentencing trends for obtaining a financial advantage by deception between 2015-16 and 2019-20.

2. Data on first-instance sentencing outcomes presented in this Snapshot was obtained from the Strategic Analysis and Review Team at Court Services Victoria. Data on appeal outcomes was collected by the Sentencing Advisory Council from the Australasian Legal Information Institute, and was also provided by the Victorian Court of Appeal. The Sentencing Advisory Council regularly undertakes extensive quality control measures for current and historical data. While every effort is made to ensure that the data analysed in this Snapshot is accurate, the data is subject to revision.

3. Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 82. The value of a penalty unit changes each year and can be found on the Council's website. Penalty units are set annually and published in the Victorian Government Gazette. Obtaining a financial advantage by deception can, in some circumstances when the value is $50,000 or more, be a continuing criminal enterprise offence. When it is, the maximum penalty doubles to 20 years' imprisonment: Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) s 6I, sch 1A.

4. Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic) s 28, sch 2 cl 4.10.

5. If a person is sentenced for a case with a single charge, the offence for that charge is the principal offence. If a person is sentenced for more than one charge in a single case, the principal offence is the offence for the charge that attracted the most serious sentence according to the sentencing hierarchy.

6. For the principal offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception, custodial sentences included imprisonment and partially suspended sentences.

7. For example, if the principal offence receives a sentence of imprisonment combined with a community correction order, imprisonment is the principal sentence.

8. A court may impose an aggregate sentence of imprisonment upon multiple charges sentenced at the same time. These sentences are a single imprisonment term in which the parts of the term attributable to the individual charges are not specified. A case may include a combination of aggregate and non-aggregate sentences.

9. DPP v Sidaoui [2019] VSC 225 (6 years); DPP v Vlahos [2021] VCC 2074 (6 years).

10. DPP v Sidaoui [2019] VSC 225 (10 years and 1 month imprisonment for 18 charges of obtaining a financial advantage by deception and 15 charges of theft committed by a lawyer over a 10-year period).

11. A non-parole period was not set for 4 people who were eligible for a non-parole period.

12. One person was given a non-parole period that related to more than one case (for example, they may have already been serving a prison sentence at the time). It was not possible to separately determine the non-parole periods that related to each individual case.