Sentencing Guide

This booklet is published by the Judicial Conference of Australia as a free resource to members of the public who wish to gain a better understanding of the system of sentencing offenders in Australia.

The JCA is the national representative body for Australian judicial officers. It has a membership of some 600 judges and magistrates, and is a non-profit organisation largely funded by its members.

This booklet attempts to provide answers to some of the many questions people have about how sentencing occurs in Australia. What factors does the court take into account? How much discretion does the judicial officer have? To what extent is the discretion limited? Why is a particular penalty chosen? Why a non-custodial sentence rather than imprisonment? Why a minimum sentence of three years for a bashing rather than, say, ten years? Is the sentence going to be effective? How will we know?

These questions will be considered from the point of view of judges and magistrates who daily impose sentences in the courts. The booklet tries to explain in broad terms what courts do in the sentencing process and why they do it. It also responds to some common criticisms that are made about sentencing.

The sentencing process is at the very core of the criminal justice system. Every community needs to devote a good deal of time and energy to producing a justice system that is as logical, rational, sensible and effective as possible.

This task is not simple and it is never finished. That is because the nature and amount of crime changes over time, community attitudes shift and new approaches to the legal system are always being suggested. A constant process of monitoring and up-dating the system is necessary.

Changes in sentencing laws and procedures can sometimes be influenced by criticisms of courts from the public, lawyers, police or those working in corrections, as well as the media. Some criticisms of the system are well-founded and persuasive, while others reflect a lack of understanding about what the system can achieve - or disagreements about what it should be trying to achieve.

Last updated: 11-Jul-2014

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