Victorian sentencing law

Criminology Research Council grant ; (2/79)

This project resulted in the publication of a book (in three volumes) entitled Sentencing in Victoria: State and Federal Law.

The research undertaken attempted to examine, as thoroughly as possible, every sentencing option under State and Federal law available to Victorian criminal courts. This constitutes the central part of the report (Chapters 4-10). However, to set the measures in context it was first necessary, in the opening part of the research report, to explore the manner in which sentencing authority is distributed between Federal and State authorities under existing constitutional arrangements and how, within each jurisdiction, the legislative, executive and judicial arms of government contribute to the imposition and execution of the sanction which the offender is obliged to undergo. General principles of interpretation of penalty provisions also had to be examined (Chapter 1).

The second chapter deals with the procedure at the sentencing stage of a criminal trial with emphasis on problems which arise out of the need to clarify the actual basis of a sentence, particularly in those situations in which the facts of the offence and the circumstances of the offender have not been fully brought out either because a guilty plea has been entered, or because the information was not brought out in the trial proper.

The third chapter documents the appellate process in respect of Federal and State offences. The position of Crown appeals against sentence as well as those of the accused are examined and the role of prerogative writs as an additional means of reviewing sentences is discussed. The principles of appellate review of sentences are covered in some detail.

The penultimate chapter addresses itself to the general considerations which the Full Court of Victoria has indicated bear upon the exercise of any sentencing discretion. The chapter deals with the significance of matters such as the nature of the crime, the character of the offender, the offender's responses to the charges, the effect of the sanction on others, the need to avoid disparity in sentences, and so one. These matters are of importance and of general application, but much of the research material had to be garnered from the unreported decisions of the Full Court which had to be tracked down back to 1971.

The concluding chapter deals with the patterns of sentencing in the more important or common indictable offences prosecuted in the superior courts of Victoria. The chapter provides statistical summaries of the sentencing practices of the courts in respect of each of the main offence categories and discussed the guidelines provided to other sentences by the Full Court in the handling of each class of offence.