Sentencing definitions

The table below lists definitions of commonly used sentencing terms.


Absolute discharge


Release without a conviction being recorded and without any further penalty.




A person who has been charged with an offence but who has not yet been found guilty or not guilty. Also referred to as defendant.




A finding by a court that a person is not guilty of a criminal charge.


Agreed facts


Facts agreed to by the defence and the prosecution, regarding the charges that are brought before the court. Usually presented after a plea of guilty.


Aggravating factors


Facts or details about the offence, the victim and/or the offender that tend to increase the offender’s culpability and the sentence they receive




What the prosecution says happened. The court (the judge or jury) will determine if it is true or not.




Background details about an offender, such as age, marital status, employment history and criminal history (this usually includes details of past convictions and penalties).




Review of all or part of a court’s decision by a higher court.




The party appealing a court’s decision. This can be the defendant or the prosecution.




The release of a defendant into the community until a court decides the charge/s against them. Bail orders always include a condition that the defendant must attend court hearings. Additional conditions such as a requirement to live at a certain address, or report to police may be added to a person’s bail.


Banning order


An order banning an offender entering a certain licensed place (e.g. nightclub or bar) or entering a particular area near a licensed premises during certain hours, or attending a particular public event at which alcohol will be sold.


Beyond reasonable doubt


This is the level to which the prosecution in a criminal proceeding must prove that the accused person committed the alleged offence.


Case law


Law made by courts, including sentencing decisions and decisions about how to interpret legislation. This is also known as common law.


Childrens Court


A court that hears offences committed by children and young people. The Childrens Court is a special court of the Magistrates Court.


Childrens Court of Queensland


A special court at the District Court level that deals with children who commit serious criminal offences and is presided over by a Childrens Court judge who is also a judge of the District Court.


Common law


Law made by courts, including sentencing decisions and decisions about how to interpret legislation. This is also known as case law.


Committal hearing


A preliminary examination by a Magistrates Court of the prosecution’s evidence against a defendant to determine whether there is enough evidence for the matter to go to trial in the District or Supreme Court.


Community Justice Group


Community Justice Groups (CJGs) are run by members of the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. They provide submissions to courts on bail and sentencing. CJGs provide a community-based response to local issues, working cooperatively with magistrates, police, corrective services personnel and staff from other government agencies.


Community service order


An order to do unpaid community service for between 40 and 240 hours, usually within 12 months, and to comply with reporting and other conditions.


Compensation order


An order to pay for property taken or damaged, or compensate for loss or damage to property or for any personal injury suffered by a person.


Concurrent sentences


Individual sentences ordered for each charge in a case that are to be served at the same time. This means the shortest sentence is subsumed into the longest sentence (also called the ‘head sentence’). For example, a prison sentence for five years and for two years served wholly concurrently would be a total of five years’ imprisonment.


Control order


An order imposing conditions to protect the public by preventing, restricting or disrupting the offender’s involvement in serious criminal activity.




A determination of guilt made by a court.


Court of Appeal


A division of the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeal hears appeals against conviction, sentence or both.


Court ordered parole


A parole order where the parole release date is fixed by the court (meaning the offender is automatically released on that date).


Criminal offences


Criminal offences are comprised of crimes, misdemeanours and simple offences (also known as ‘summary offences’).




The prosecution may be referred to as the Crown.




Blameworthiness; how responsible the person is for the offence and for the harm he or she caused.


Cumulative sentences


Individual sentence for each charge in a case that are to be served in whole or part one after the other. For example, a person sentenced to five years and to two years imprisonment ordered to be served wholly cumulatively would have to serve a total prison sentence of seven years.


Custodial sentencing order


A sentencing order that involves a term of imprisonment being imposed.




A person who has been charged with an offence but who has not yet been found guilty or not guilty. Can be used interchangeably with accused.


De Simoni (principle of De Simoni)


The principle that a person should only be sentenced for an offence of which he or she has been found guilty.


District Court


The second tier of the Queensland court system after the Magistrates Court, dealing with serious criminal offences such as rape, armed robbery and many serious drug offences. The Court also hears appeals from sentences ordered in the Magistrates Court.


Drug and Alcohol Court


This court provides an intensive and targeted response to adults with a severe substance use disorder. The Drug and Alcohol Court in Brisbane commenced operation in January 2018.




A penalty requiring that an offender pay an amount of money.


Good behaviour bond


A court order to appear before the court if called to do so and to ‘be of good behaviour’ (not to break the law) for a set period (up to three years). The offender and anyone acting as a ‘surety’ is required to pay an amount of money if the offender breaks the law or does not comply with other conditions of the order. Also known as recognisance.


Graffiti removal order


An order of up to 40 hours to remove graffiti, usually within 12 months.


Grounds for an appeal


The reasons why the appellant (the party appealing the court’s decision) will argue that the magistrate, judge or jury made a wrong decision.


Head sentence — imprisonment


The total period of imprisonment imposed. A person will usually be released on parole or a suspended sentence before the entire head sentence is served.


High Court of Australia


The highest court in the Australian judicial system. The High Court only deals with legal matters of wider public importance and is not a sentencing court.


Higher courts


In Queensland, the District Court and the Supreme Court.




Detention in prison.


Indefinite sentence


A sentence that can be ordered instead of a sentence for a fixed term of imprisonment when a court is satisfied an offender is considered a serious danger to the community. This means there is no fixed date when they can apply for release on parole. The Court must periodically review an indefinite sentence.


Indictable offences


Crimes and misdemeanours that must be dealt with in the Supreme Court or District Court on indictment (a written charge bringing a person to trial in a higher court). Generally crimes are more serious than misdemeanours. Some indictable offences can (or must) be dealt with summarily (by a Magistrates Court) in certain circumstances.


Intensive correction order


A sentence of imprisonment of one year or less ordered to be served in the community and including intensive supervision, community service and treatment programs.




The person who hears the case and decides the sentence in the District Court, the Childrens Court of Queensland and the Supreme Court.




A group of 12 people selected at random from the general community. A jury decides whether the accused person is guilty or not guilty of the alleged offence.




The person who hears the case and decides the sentence in the Magistrates Court or the Childrens Court.


Magistrates Court


The first tier of the Queensland courts system. Most criminal cases are heard in this court in some form.


Mandatory sentence


A sentence that is a fixed penalty prescribed by Parliament for committing a criminal offence, allowing no discretion for the court to impose a different sentence.


Maximum penalty


The highest penalty that can be given to a person convicted of a particular offence.


Mental Health Court


The Mental Health Court decides whether a defendant may have a defence to a charge because of mental illness at the time of the alleged offence. The court also determines whether a defendant is not fit for trial because of mental illness.


Mitigating factor


A fact or detail about the offender and their offence that tend to reduce the severity of their sentence.


Murri Court


Murri Court links Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander defendants to cultural and support services to help them make changes in their lives and stop offending.


Non-contact order


An order prohibiting contact with the victim or another person, or going to a particular place, or within a particular distance of that place, for a set period.


Non-custodial order


A sentencing order that does not involve the person being sentenced to imprisonment.


Non-parole period


The time a person serves in prison before being released on parole or becoming eligible to apply for release on parole.




A person who has been found guilty of an offence, or who has pleaded guilty to an offence.


Offender levy


An administrative fee to help pay for law enforcement and administration costs.


Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions


The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) represents the State of Queensland in criminal cases. Also referred to as the prosecution.


Parity (principle of parity)


Consistency between sentencing decisions involving co-offenders, which supports the principle of equality before the law.




The conditional release of a person from prison. When a person is released on parole, they serve the unexpired portion of their prison sentence in the community under supervision.


Parole Board Queensland


An independent body that decides applications for parole orders under the Corrective Services Act 2006 (Qld), other than parole release dates ordered by courts (court ordered parole).The Parole Board Queensland can also amend, suspend or cancel a parole order of a prisoner released on parole.


Parole eligibility date


The earliest date on which a prisoner may be released on parole. The decision to release a prisoner on parole is made by the Parole Board Queensland.


Parole release date


The date on which a prisoner must be released on parole. A court can only set a parole release date if certain criteria are met. A parole release date cannot be set in certain circumstances, including if the sentence is greater than three years or if the person is being sentenced for a serious violent offence or a sexual offence.




A prisoner who has been released on parole.




The response by the accused to a criminal charge — ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’.




A decision that sets down a legal principle to be followed in similar cases in the future.




An offender in prison serving a custodial sentence. People who have not yet been found guilty or sentenced held on remand are also referred to as ‘prisoners’.




An order between six months and three years served in the community with monitoring and supervision.


Proportionality (principle of proportionality)


The principle that a sentence must be appropriate or proportionate to the seriousness of the crime.




A legal proceeding by the State of Queensland against an accused person for a criminal offence. Prosecutions are brought by the Crown (through the Office for the Director of Public Prosecutions or police prosecutors).




A requirement to appear before a court if called to do so and to ‘be of good behaviour’ (not to break the law) for a set period (up to three years), which requires the person and anyone acting as a ‘surety’ to pay an amount of money if the offender breaks the law or does not comply with other conditions of the order. This is also known as a good behaviour bond.




To place an accused person in custody awaiting further court hearings dealing with the charges against them. A person who has been denied bail, or not sought it, will be placed on remand. This is also known as pre-sentence custody.


Regulatory offences


Less serious forms of offences which provide police with an alternative to charging a person with a criminal offence.




The party responding to an appeal of a court’s decision.




An order to restore property taken or damaged in the commission of an offence to its proper owner.




The penalty that the court imposes on a person who has been found guilty of an offence.


Sentencing factors


The factors that the court must take into account when sentencing.


Sentencing principles


Principles developed under the common law, which serve as guideposts to help judges and magistrates reach a decision on the sentence to impose. They include parity, proportionality, totality, and the De Simoni principle.


Sentencing purposes


The legislated purposes for which a sentence may be imposed. In Queensland there are five sentencing purposes for the sentencing of adults: punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation, denunciation and community protection.


Sentencing remarks


The reasons given by the judge or magistrate for the sentence imposed.


Serious violent offence


If a court convicts a person of an offence declared to be a serious violent offence, it means the offender is unable to apply for parole until they have served 80 per cent of their sentence or 15 years in prison, whichever is less.


Simple offences


Generally minor offences that must be prosecuted within 12 months of the matter arising and are usually heard in the Magistrates Court by a magistrate. Also known as summary offences.


Specialist Domestic and Family Violence Court


This specialist court deals exclusively with all civil and criminal domestic and family violence matters in locations where the court operates.


Statute law


Laws made by Parliament, such as the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld).


Summary offences


Generally minor offences that must be prosecuted within 12 months of the matter arising and are usually heard in the Magistrates Court by a magistrate. Also known as simple offences.


Supreme Court


The highest state court in Queensland. It comprises the trial division and the Court of Appeal.


Suspended sentence


A sentence of imprisonment of five years or less suspended in whole (called a ‘wholly suspended sentence’) or in part (called a ‘partially suspended sentence’) for a period of time (called an ‘operational period’) If further offences punishable by imprisonment are committed during the operational period, the offender must serve the period suspended in prison (unless unjust to do so), plus any other penalties issued for the new offence.


Totality (principle of totality)


The principle that when an offender is convicted of more than one offence, the total sentence should reflect the overall criminality of the offending.




A person who has suffered harm directly because of a criminal offence, or a family member or dependant of a person who has died or suffered harm because of a criminal offence.


Victim impact statement


A written statement made by a victim which states the harm they have experienced from the offence and may include attachments such as medical reports, photographs and drawings.