About sentencing

Sentencing is the process of determining and applying the appropriate penalty for an offender’s actions. The Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) sets out the framework for sentencing, which is jointly shared across three bodies:

  • Parliament makes the laws and sets the parameters of the penalties imposed by the courts.
  • Courts interpret and apply the laws made by the Parliament and impose sentences upon offenders.
  • Executive arms of government, such as the public service, are responsible for implementing sentences.

Purpose of sentencing

Offenders convicted of a crime in Queensland’s criminal justice system are sentenced for the purpose of one, or a combination of:

  • punishment—penalising an offender for their action/s
  • rehabilitation—changing an offender’s action/s
  • deterrence—discouraging offenders and potential offenders from committing a crime
  • denunciation—publicly condemning an offender’s action/s
  • community protection—protecting Queensland’s community from the offender and/or their action/s.

Sentencing process

Police investigation

The Queensland Police Service investigates allegations of a crime and decides whether there is enough evidence to charge the person/s involved. If sufficient evidence exists and a prosecution follows, the person must answer to those charges before the courts. At this point in the process we refer to the person charged with an offence as a defendant.

Court hearing

While in some cases a defendant may represent themselves, normally a legal professional represents them in court. The legal professional engaged is referred to as the defence. The legal professional presenting the case against the defendant on behalf of the state is referred to as the prosecutor.

Sentencing

If a defendant’s guilt is proven ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ or they plead guilty to an offence, they are referred to as an offender. At this point the court starts the sentencing process for the offender. Depending upon the type of offence that has been committed, adults are sentenced in the Supreme, District or Magistrates Court. A child may also be sentenced in the Childrens Court.

The judge or magistrate decides the appropriate sentence by taking into account submissions made by the prosecutor and the defence and having regard to current law (including legislation, the maximum penalty for the offence and appeal decisions).

The judge or magistrate will hand down their decision and, in most cases, provide reasons for the sentence.

Who does what

There a number of different roles that are relevant to the sentencing process.

Role of judge or magistrate

The judge or magistrate considers all submissions and determines an appropriate sentence in accordance with the law and relevant sentencing principles.

Determining an appropriate sentence is a complex process in which a sentencing judge or magistrate must balance a range of factors in accordance with the law.

If the sentence involves a period of imprisonment, the sentencing judge or magistrate provides reasons for the sentence imposed. These reasons are recorded and referred to as sentencing remarks.

If a judge or magistrate hands down an order as part of the sentence, they ensure the offender understands the conditions of the order imposed.

Role of the prosecutor

The prosecutor, on behalf of the state, provides the judge or magistrate with:

  • all the facts and circumstances of the alleged offending
  • the offender’s criminal history
  • submissions about the impact of the offending on the victim/s
  • submissions about relevant case law and legislation, including associated sentencing principles.

Role of the defence

The defence, representing the offender, provides the judge or magistrate with:

  • information about the offender’s personal circumstances
  • background or any contextual information about the offending
  • submissions about the steps an offender has taken towards their rehabilitation
  • submissions about relevant case law and legislation, including associated sentencing principles.

Role of the victim

Queensland legislation protects the interests of victims during sentencing.

The sentencing court must take into account the harm or impact of the offender’s action/s on the victim/s.

A victim will generally be able to be present at the sentencing of the offender. Except in certain circumstances, court proceedings, including sentencing, are open to the public.

This information is not intended to provide legal advice and has been prepared for the purposes of providing information only. While all reasonable care has been taken in the preparation of this information, no liability is assumed for any errors or omissions.