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Criminal law

Trial proceeding inside a courtroom

Criminal law regulates conduct in society to protect the community and provides sanctions against those who commit crimes.

The Victorian Government is taking action regarding the following criminal law issues:

New psychoactive substances laws

New laws that will commence on 1 November 2017 insert new offences into new Part IIIA of the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981. These new provisions will make it an offence to produce, sell, supply in the course of carrying out a commercial activity, or advertise psychoactive substances.

The government has introduced the new psychoactive substance laws to specifically target new synthetic drugs, which are developed to mimic the effects of other illicit drugs of dependence such as cannabis and MDMA (also commonly known as ecstasy). While many synthetic drugs or classes of drugs are already prohibited as illicit drugs of dependence, the diversity of substances available and the speed with which new drugs are developed means the existing controls—which apply to specific substances based on their chemical composition—remain a step behind those responsible for producing and supplying them in Victoria.

Read more about psychoactive substances and the new laws

The Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences) Act 2016

The Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences) Act 2016 (the Act) builds on major reforms to rape and sexual assault laws contained in the Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences and Other Matters) Act 2014. The Act makes further reforms to the general sexual offences in Subdivision (8A) of the Crimes Act 1958, as well as significant reforms to other sexual offence Subdivisions.

The Act clarifies and modernises laws related to:

  • sexual offences against children
  • child pornography
  • incest
  • sexual offences against persons with a cognitive impairment or mental illness, and
  • a range of other sexual offences (including sexual servitude, loitering and bestiality).

The new laws will be clearer and more effective (for example, by responding to changes in offending as technology advances).

The Act will also improve Victoria’s sexual offence laws by:

  • renaming and expanding child pornography offences to cover ‘child abuse material’
  • introducing the new offence of ‘sexual activity directed at another person’, and
  • introducing more helpful jury directions on consent and reasonable belief in consent.

The reforms relating to jury directions commenced on 26 September 2016. The remaining reforms will commence on 1 July 2017.

The Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences) Act 2016 is available in the 'Victorian Statute Book' at www.legislation.vic.gov.au(external link)

Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences) Act 2016: An Introduction provides an introduction to these reforms. This document explains key aspects of these reforms and outlines how the new provisions are intended to operate in practice.

Jury Directions and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2017

The Jury Directions and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2017 (the Bill) builds on the reforms in the Jury Directions Act 2015.

Jury directions are the instructions the trial judge gives to the jury to ensure that the jury decides whether an accused is guilty or not guilty in accordance with the law. In Victoria, these directions have been lengthy and complex, making them difficult for juries to follow and leading to many appeals and retrials.

The Bill adds new provisions to the Jury Directions Act to address further problematic evidentiary directions, including directions on previous representations, interest in the outcome of the trial, motive to lie and differences in the complainant’s account. These amendments will assist trial judges to explain complex areas of law to the jury in an accurate and comprehensible way. The Bill also confirms the application of the Jury Directions Act to certain criminal proceedings without juries (including summary proceedings).

Reports on jury directions

The department's report Jury Directions: A Jury-Centric Approach Part 2 explains the reforms to the law of jury directions.

This report consolidates and updates material contained in the department’s earlier reports:

Youth justice

The Government has recently announced new initiatives to address youth crime. 

The reforms will:

  • Increase the maximum period of detention that can be imposed by the Children’s Court on young offenders from three years to four years.
  • Create a new offence for adults who lure young people to commit crimes for them. The offence of ‘procuring young people to commit offences’ will carry a maximum penalty of ten years in prison, regardless of the crime committed by the youth.
  • Establish a new Youth Control Order (YCO) to give the Children’s Court the power to issue a more intensive and targeted supervision sentence for young offenders. YCOs can restrict where a young person can visit and who they can associate with, can include curfews, and require the young person to comply with an education, training or employment plan. Non-compliance will result in the court being able to place the young offender in custody.
  • Set up an Intensive Monitoring and Control Bail Supervision Scheme based on a successful model from the UK, which will mean young people have to report more regularly to DHHS and Victoria Police and comply with education, training or work requirements. If they fail to meet these requirements, they risk having their bail revoked.
  • Hold young people more accountable for their actions while in detention, by ensuring the Youth Parole Board is told about any critical incidents involving youths in detention, such as assaults or rioting, which may be taken into account when considering their eligibility for parole.
  • Require the Youth Parole Board to notify Victoria Police when specific youth offenders, such as violent and repeat offenders, are released on parole.
  • Extend the existing Youth Justice Bail Supervision scheme across the entire state. The scheme has been proven to prevent people from re-offending and is supported by Victoria Police.
  • Expand the Central After Hours Assessment and Bail Placement Service to ensure staff are on hand around the clock to assist Victoria Police and Bail Justices make the best decisions about how to deal with an offender who has been arrested out of hours.

The Government will also take action to give clearer guidance to the Children’s Court when dealing with young offenders, including:

  • Requiring Magistrates in the Children’s Court to give particular consideration to community safety when sentencing young people who have committed serious violent crimes and have previous convictions for similar offences.
  • Introducing laws to clarify the criteria which allows Children’s Court matters to be heard in the Supreme or County Courts. This will provide greater guidance about when serious cases should be elevated to a higher court.
  • Ensuring that where possible, the same magistrate oversees all proceedings relating to a young offender, meaning consistency of approach and more effective monitoring of repeat offenders.

Standard sentencing scheme

In 2017, the Government will introduce legislation to reform Victoria’s sentencing laws and abolish the baseline sentencing scheme introduced in 2014.

A standard sentence scheme will be developed, aimed at increasing sentences for 12 of the state’s most serious crimes, including murder, rape and sexual offences involving children. The reforms incorporate recommendations made in a Sentencing Advisory Council (SAC) report Sentencing Guidance in Victoria . The Government asked the SAC to provide advice on sentencing laws following a ruling by the Court of Appeal in November 2015 that the baseline sentence provisions were unworkable and incapable of being given any practical operation. 

Under the proposed scheme, a 'standard sentence' will be created to represent the mid-point of seriousness for specific offences and be calculated at 40 per cent of the maximum penalty. For example, the maximum sentence for the sexual penetration of a child under 12 is 25 years imprisonment, making the standard sentence for that offence 10 years imprisonment.

Courts will be required to consider the standard sentence level for the offence alongside other relevant factors in arriving at the appropriate sentence in a given case. Courts will also be asked to provide reasons for departures from standard sentence lengths.

Victims of Crime Commissioner Act 2015

The Victims of Crime Commissioner Act 2015 builds on recent reforms to assist victims and establishes the office of the Victims of Crime Commissioner and the Victims of Crime Consultative Committee.

Victims of Crime Commissioner

  • The Victims of Crime Commissioner:
    • advocates for the recognition, inclusion and participation of victims by government agencies;
    • conducts inquiries on systemic victim of crime matters and reports to the Attorney-General on these matters; and
    • provides advice to the Attorney-General on reforms to the criminal justice system to improve outcomes for victims.

Mr Greg Davies, APM, is the current Victims of Crime Commissioner. 

Victims of Crime Consultative Committee

The Victims of Crime Consultative Committee is a high level committee that examines issues relating to victims of crime in the criminal justice system and advises the Attorney-General on policy, operational and legislative reforms to improve outcomes for victims.

The Committee comprises representatives from the judiciary, Adult Parole Board, Office of the Victims of Crime Commissioner, Office of Public Prosecutions, service providers and victims.

The Committee is currently chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice, the Hon Bernard Teague AO.

Sentencing (Community Correction Order) and Other Acts Amendment Act 2016

In 2016, the Government introduced new laws preventing courts from using community correction orders (CCOs) and other non-custodial orders for the state's most serious crimes. These laws commenced in March 2017.

The Sentencing (Community Correction Order) and Other Acts Amendment Act 2016 introduced laws requiring a court to impose a custodial order for 10 serious offences, including murder, rape and child sexual offences. For other serious offences, such as manslaughter, a custodial order will have to be imposed unless special reasons apply.

In addition, the Sentencing (Community Correction Order) and Other Acts Amendment Act limited the maximum length of a CCO to five years, and the length of imprisonment than can be combined with a CCO from two years to one year.

Jury Directions Act 2015

The Jury Directions Act 2015 (the Act) builds on the reforms in the Jury Directions Act 2013.

Jury directions are the instructions the trial judge gives to the jury to ensure that the jury decides whether an accused is guilty or not guilty in accordance with the law. In Victoria, these directions have been lengthy and complex, making them difficult for juries to follow and leading to many appeals and retrials.

The Act repeals and re-enacts the Jury Directions Act 2013, with some refinements. It also clarifies and simplifies important jury directions relying on the framework in the Act, such as directions on other misconduct evidence (for example tendency and coincidence evidence), unreliable evidence, identification evidence, delay and forensic disadvantage, failure to give evidence and question witnesses, delay and credibility (in sexual offence cases), and what must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. The majority of the provisions in the Act commenced 29 June 2015 (except for Division 1 of Part 5 of the Act, which relates to directions on consent and reasonable belief in consent in sexual offence cases, which commenced on 1 July 2015).

The Jury Directions Act 2015 is available in the 'Parliamentary Documents Library' at www.legislation.vic.gov.au

Jury Directions Act 2015 Quizzes

Test your knowledge of the Jury Directions Act 2015 with a quick quiz and a detailed quiz.

Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences and Other Matters) Act 2014

In 2013, the department publicly released the Review of Sexual Offences: Consultation Paper. Following consultation on the paper’s proposals for reform, the Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences and Other Matters) Act 2014 was passed by Parliament in October 2014. This Act makes a number of improvements to Victoria’s sexual offence laws, including rape and sexual assault. The reforms commenced operation on 1 July 2015.

Among the most important reforms are:

  • a clear, simple and consistent drafting style for the offences of rape and sexual assault
  • a new fault element in rape and sexual assault: the accused does not reasonably believe that the complainant is consenting
  • making jury directions in rape and sexual assault trials better tailored to the specifics of each case
  • a new ‘course of conduct charge’, which will assist in the prosecution of people who engage in repeated and systematic sexual abuse over a period of time.

Victoria's New Sexual Offence Laws: An Introduction provides an introduction to these reforms. It is primarily designed to assist the judiciary, lawyers and police in applying the new laws, and may also be a useful tool for members of the community who are interested in better understanding the law in this area.

Take the quiz on Victoria's new sexual offence laws

Test your knowledge of the Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences and Other Matters) Act 2014 with this quick quiz.

Criminal Investigation Powers Bill

Criminal investigation powers, such as the power to arrest and question suspects, take DNA samples and fingerprints, and obtain warrants, are used everyday by police to gather evidence, and question witnesses and suspects. Police need the right tools to promote community safety, investigate crime and hold offenders to account. A Criminal Investigation Powers Bill Exposure Draft has been prepared for public comment along with a summary paper in 2014. 

Complicity reforms

The department has prepared a document – Complicity reforms – which explains the recent reform of the law of complicity contained in the Crimes Amendment (Abolition of Defensive Homicide) Act 2014. These changes came into operation on 1 November 2014.

Family Violence Protection Act 

For information about family violence, how to keep safe and applying for a family violence intervention order, visit the Victims of Crime website (External link)

Defensive homicide

In 2010, the department released a discussion paper on defensive homicide as a first step in its review of defensive homicide. In response to this paper, the department received many helpful submissions from a variety of stakeholders.

The department has now prepared a consultation paper, Defensive Homicide: Proposals for Legislative Reform, which contains a detailed analysis of the operation of defensive homicide.

The consultation paper enabled the Victorian community to contribute to the further improvement of homicide laws.

In 2014, the Victorian Government introduced into parliament the Crimes Amendment (Abolition of Defensive Homicide) Bill 2014 (the Bill). The Bill contains reforms to self-defence, introduces jury directions to explain family violence to the jury and abolishes the offence of defensive homicide. An electronic version of the Bill can be found at www.legislation.vic.gov.au (External link)

Criminal Procedure Act 2009

The Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (the Act) consolidates and reforms Victoria’s main criminal procedure laws. The Act makes substantive changes and improvements to pre-trial, trial, and appeal procedures for both summary and indictable offences. In addition, the Act modernises language, abolishes redundant and obsolete laws and harmonises procedure and terminology across jurisdictions.

The following documents are intended to assist those who will use and work with the Act.

A Brief Introduction – a short and accessible document about the main changes to criminal procedure.

Legislative Guide by Chapter – overview of each chapter, and, for each section, an overview, legislative history and detailed explanation.

Ready Reckoner and Reverse Ready Reckoner – details the level of change made to particular provisions by the Criminal Procedure Act 2009.

Evidence Act 2008

The Evidence Act 2008 brings Victoria into line with uniform evidence laws across much of Australia and cuts red tape for Victorian businesses, government and the not-for-profit sector.

Evidence Act Ready Reckoner compares each section of the new Act with the Evidence Act 1958 and relevant case law, with hyperlinks to corresponding sections of the Act and to cases. It also indicates the extent of the change made to the law taking into account firstly the change to the particular aspect of the relevant corresponding law and secondly the significance of the change to the law of evidence as a whole.

Brodie's Law

Victoria’s anti-bullying legislation, known as Brodie's Law, was introduced after the tragic suicide of a young woman, Brodie Panlock, who was subjected to relentless bullying in her workplace.

Commencing in June 2011, Brodie's Law makes serious bullying a criminal offence by extending the application of the stalking provisions in the Crimes Act 1958 to include behaviour that involves serious bullying. The offence of stalking, and therefore conduct that amounts to serious bullying, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

The introduction of Brodie's Law means that the criminal justice system is now able to appropriately respond to the most serious examples of bullying in our community. The law ensures certainty in the application of the criminal law to cases of serious bullying. Brodie's Law has raised awareness in Victoria about the serious nature of bullying and the very damaging consequences it may have.

The law sends a strong message that threatening, bullying behaviour – in the workplace and elsewhere throughout the community – will not be tolerated. Brodie's Law applies to all forms of serious bullying, including physical bullying, psychological bullying, verbal bullying and cyber bullying.

Anyone who needs crisis support can call Lifeline (External link) 24 hours a day on 13 11 14 or contact local police.

Read more about Brodie's Law.

Watch a video (External link) of Evelyn Field, a psychologist who specialises in workplace bullying, about the steps you can take if you are being bullied.

Coward punch killers

Coward punch killers will face at least 10 years in jail under laws announced in August 2014.

Those who punch or strike someone in the head without warning, resulting in their death, will be guilty of manslaughter and liable to a 10-year statutory minimum non-parole period.

The sentence will apply regardless of whether the death is caused directly by the punch, or by the person striking their head as they fall.

The law will also deem an injury-causing punch to the head to be a dangerous act for the purposes of the law of manslaughter where it results in the death of the victim.

Parole reform

The department has implemented major reforms to the Victorian parole system. The Corrections Amendment (Parole Reform) Act 2013:

  • enshrine in the act that safety and protection of the community is the paramount consideration in considering whether parole should be granted, varied, revoked, cancelled, or cancellation of parole revoked
  • allow for the appointment of a full-time chairperson of the adult parole board
  • introduce time limits for appointment to the board of not more than 9 years in total
  • ensure registered victims are given at least 14 days notice of a prisoner's release on parole
  • require the board to include in its annual report the number of persons convicted, during the reporting period of a serious offence committed while on parole.

For further information on the Victorian parole system, visit the Corrections, Prisons and Parole website (External link)

Unlawful association laws

The Criminal Organisations Control Amendment (Unlawful Associations) Act 2015, which commenced operation on 1 July 2016, repealed Victoria’s rarely-used ‘consorting’ offence and replaced it with a new offence of ‘unlawful association’.

The new laws allow Victoria Police to warn a person not to associate with another person who has been previously convicted of a serious offence, if a police officer believes the issuing of a notice will prevent further offending. If a person continues to associate in breach of the warning, they will commit an offence punishable by three years imprisonment and/or a fine of $56,000.

The laws will assist Victoria Police in preventing serious and organised crime by disrupting the associations that facilitate serious criminal activity.

 

 

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander flags

The department acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Custodians of the land and acknowledges and pays respect to their Elders, past and present.