How sentencing works

When a person is charged with and pleads guilty or is found guilty of committing an offence in Queensland, they will be sentenced by a court.

This page explains what a sentence is, how the sentencing process works, and the key people involved in sentencing.

What is a sentence?

A sentence is a penalty or punishment a court imposes once a person pleads guilty to, or is found guilty of an offence.

A sentence isn’t just about going to prison. There are lots of different sentences a court can give to a person, some of which don’t involve going to prison at all. For example, a person found guilty could receive a fine, a community service order or probation. Read more about types of sentences.

The sentencing process in Queensland

There are several steps involved before a person is sentenced.

The Queensland Police Service will investigate if a person has committed an offence and if there is enough evidence to charge them. If a decision is made to prosecute, the person must come to court.

A person charged with an offence is called a defendant.

Usually, a lawyer will represent the person in court (although a person can represent themselves without a lawyer). This lawyer is called the defence.

The prosecutor presents the case against the person on behalf of the state. In most cases, charges are prosecuted by a police prosecutor. More serious charges are prosecuted by a lawyer employed by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Depending on the type of case and how serious the charges are, there can be a number of stages involved before a person is sentenced.

Find out more about what happens at the Magistrates Court, which is where most people charged with an offence must first appear. The person charged will either plead guilty to the offence or plead not guilty. If the person pleads not guilty, a jury, judge, or magistrate decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. This is called a trial.

If the person is found not guilty, they are free to go.

Sometimes a case can’t go ahead because the person charged is or appears to have a mental illness, intellectual disability or another mental condition. Find out what Magistrates can do in this situation and the role of the Mental Health Court, which also deals with cases referred by the District Court and Supreme Court and others

If a person is found guilty after a trial, or they plead guilty to an offence, the court starts the sentencing process.

Adults are sentenced in the SupremeDistrict or Magistrates Court, depending on what offence they have committed. A child is sentenced in a specialised Childrens Court.

The job of the judge or magistrate is to consider everything carefully and decide on a sentence that is fair. They will think about what the prosecutor and the defence lawyers said and they have to apply the law.

The judge or magistrate will make their decision and, in most cases, explain why they have given the sentence.

All people sentenced for an offence must pay an offender levy to help pay for law enforcement and administration costs:

Magistrates Court — $133.60

District Court/Supreme Court — $400.30

Different legal roles

There are several key people involved in sentencing.

A judge is a person who decides cases in the Children’s Court of Queensland, District Court, Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal.

In the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, their formal title is 'Justice'.

A magistrate is a person who decides cases in the Magistrates Courts.

The judge or magistrate listens to all of the arguments in court (called 'submissions') and decides on a fair and just sentence.

If sentencing a person to prison (including if the prison sentence is suspended), the judge or magistrate must explain why they have given that sentence. These reasons are recorded and called ‘sentencing remarks’.

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

  • all the facts and circumstances of the alleged offending
  • the person’s criminal history
  • details about how the offending has affected the victim/s
  • information about how similar cases were sentenced in the past.

The defence, representing the person who committed the offence, gives the judge or magistrate:

  • information about the person’s personal circumstances
  • any background to the offending
  • information about any steps the person has taken towards their rehabilitation
  • information about how similar cases were sentenced in the past.

When a court is sentencing a person for committing an offence, the judge must think about the harm it caused any victim.

A victim, and/or their family, can write a victim impact statement to tell the court about how the offence has affected their life. A victim will generally be able to be present at the sentencing of the person who committed the offence and, if they have made a victim impact statement, can ask to read or have this read aloud in court.

The victim can also be called by the prosecutor as a witness to tell the court about the offence and how it has affected them.

Queensland Corrective Services is a Queensland Government agency. Corrective Services officers will often be in court when a person is sentenced. These officers manage and supervise offenders who are in prison, on parole or on supervised community-based orders.

Corrective Services can also prepare pre-sentence reports for adults when asked to do so by the court.

Youth Justice is a Queensland Government agency. Youth Justice officers are usually in court when a child is sentenced. They can give the court information about the sentences the child may be given and anything else that the court wants them to discuss.

Youth Justice writes pre-sentence reports for children.

Youth Justice supervises children who are given community-based sentences or who are sentenced to time in a youth detention centre. They also run restorative justice processes.

Journalists play a key role in helping the community to understand sentencing. In most cases, they can attend court and report to the public about what happened unless the court is closed to the public and the court doesn't agree to this.

Journalists can only film sentencing remarks if the court allows it. They cannot take photos of court proceedings.

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.