Legal Groundup

Legal Studies from the ground up

Application Excercise 4r

The jurisdiction of the Drug Court and how this court operates.

The Victorian Drug Court, which commenced in May 2002, is a division of the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria that is responsible for sentencing and supervising the treatment of offenders who have pleaded guilty to committing a crime under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or who have pleaded guilty to committing a crime to support a drug or alcohol addiction. A Magistrate sentences an offender by imposing imprisonment or a drug treatment order (DTO) in order to rehabilitate the offender.

The Victorian Drug Court represents a fundamental shift in the way the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria has previously dealt with drug offenders. It is a response to the failure of traditional criminal justice measures to adequately address drug use and offending caused by drug use. The Drug Court seeks to further improve the safety of the community by focusing on the rehabilitation of offenders with a drug or alcohol dependency and providing assistance in reintegrating them into the community.

An eligible offender attending the Drug Court may be sentenced to a Drug Treatment Order (DTO), which consists of two parts – the treatment and supervision of the offender and the custodial part. The treatment and supervision of the offender is the responsibility of the Drug Court Magistrate who will include specific conditions in the DTO which are intended to address the offenders’ drug and alcohol dependency. A multi-disciplinary team consisting of case managers, clinical advisers, a dedicated police prosecutor and defence lawyer, assist the Drug Court Magistrate in the supervision of offenders placed on a DTO.

A DTO combines a term of imprisonment with drug treatment, but with the term of imprisonment suspended. The court imposes a sentence of up to two years’ imprisonment, but defers the term of imprisonment while the offender undergoes treatment and supervision. A drug treatment order can only be ordered by the Victorian Drug Court, and cannot be given to offenders who have committed sexual or violent crimes. Offenders subject to a drug treatment order have restrictions placed on their freedom of movement and association. Offenders must undergo drug treatment, have regular meetings with the magistrate and counsellors, and may have to submit to drug testing, along with other conditions. An offender on a drug treatment order who successfully completes his or her treatment will not have to serve any time in prison. However, an offender on a drug treatment order who fails to follow the conditions of the order may have additional conditions imposed, the order may be cancelled, or the offender may be sentenced to serve the unexpired portion of their sentence in prison.

The jurisdicton of the Koori Courts and how they operate – Magistrates’ Koori Court, Children’s Koori Court, and County Koori Court.

The Magistrates’ Koori Court, which operates as a division of the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, sentences Indigenous defendants who plead guilty to committing a crime. The Children’s Koori Court has the same purpose of sentencing Indigenous defendants, but who are children pleading guilty to a crime, rather than an adult. This court aims to reduce re-offending by Indigenous. The word Koori means, generally, Aboriginal Australians.

The Koori Court provides an informal atmosphere compared to a traditional court, and allows greater participation and involvement by the Aboriginal (Koori) community in the court process and court hearings. Koori Elders or Respected Persons, the Koori Court Officer, Koori defendants and their families can contribute during the Court hearing. This helps to reduce perceptions of cultural alienation and to ensure sentencing orders are appropriate to the cultural needs of Koori offenders, and assist them in addressing issues in relation to their offending behaviour. The Magistrate presiding sits at a large table with all other participants in the case, not at the bench, and can take advice from a koori elder or respected person on cultural issues as well as the sentence being considered. The defendant also sits with his or her family at the table, not in the dock. The parties involved will talk in ‘plain’ English rather than using technical legal jargon and complicated language. The Magistrate, however, makes the final decision.

The Koori Court is currently located at Bairnsdale, Broadmeadows, Latrobe Valley, Mildura, Shepparton, Swan Hill and Warrnambool Magistrates’ Courts. Children’s Koori Courts are also located in Melbourne and Mildura.

The Koori Court aims to increase positive participation by Koori offenders; increase the accountability of the Koori offenders, families, and community; encourage defendants to appear in Court; deter offenders from re-offending; and explore sentencing alternatives prior to imprisonment.

The County Koori Court, established as a division of the County Court of Victoria, draws on the successful implementation of the Koori Court in both the Magistrates’ Court and the Children’s’ Court. The aim of the County Koori Court is to ensure greater participation of the Aboriginal community in the sentencing process of the County Court through the role played in that process by the Aboriginal Elders or Respected Persons. The County Koori Court is the first sentencing court for Aboriginal offenders in a higher jurisdiction in Australia. The County Koori Court currently sits in the Melbourne County Court, Gippsland (at the Morwell Law Courts and Bairnsdale Law Courts) and Mildura. 

What a diversion program provides and how it operates.

A diversion program in the criminal justice system is a way to deal with your matter out of the court system, and is a form of sentence in which the criminal offender joins a rehabilitation program, which will help remedy the behaviour leading to the original arrest, and provide a chance to avoid conviction and a criminal record.

An offender is eligible if their offence can be heard in the Magistrates’ Court, their your offence does not have a minimum or fixed sentence or penalty, and the offender agrees they were responsible for the offence.

Usually a Magistrate would grant diversion if it is the offender’s first offence, and if the offence is not too serious such as shoplifting/ theft, minor criminal damage, a minor drug offence or a careless driving offence. Diversion cannot be granted for driving offences such as drink or drug driving, or driving at an excessive speed.

Therefore, if the Magistrate agrees that the offender is eligible for diversion, he/ she will be put on a diversion plan, which usually goes for one year.  During this time, the offender will be required to follow certain conditions such as write a letter of apology to the victim, get counselling (anger management, drug or alcohol treatment), do an education course (defensive driving course, drug awareness program), make a donation or do community work.

If the offender follows the conditions of their diversion plan, the police would drop the charges and therefore there would be no finding of guilt. This means the person would not have a criminal record. However, if an offender does not follow the conditions of the diversion program then their case will be put back into the court system.