Recent events in NSW have focused attention on mandatory sentencing.

This post brings together relevant information about current mandatory sentencing debates in Australia. Click on the links below to view material for the relevant jurisdiction:

A mandatory sentence means that statue provides a mandatory or minimum sentence that a person must receive when convicted of a crime. This limits a judge’s discretion, in particular the influence of mitigating and aggravating circumstances, in sentencing. Some mandatory sentences are for “life imprisonment” and specify non parole periods, these generally relate to the crime of murder. However, more numerous are sentences where legislation dictates a minimum sentence that must be issued, though the judge may also choose to impose a heavier sentence if the case warrants it.

There is disagreement in the community and among legal academics about mandatory sentencing. The links below reflect some of the debate in each jurisdiction.

Academic views on  mandatory sentencing as remedysentencing of life imprisonment and the constitutionality of mandatory sentencing provide a deeper analysis of the legal complexities.

New South Wales

Recent ‘one punch’ alcohol fuelled assaults and community concern about an escalation in violence in the CBD/Kings Cross area of Sydney have led to the NSW Government proposing a number of changes to sentencing.


The Queensland Government introduced mandatory sentences for ‘vicious lawless associates’ in 2013 in response to violence and crime related to ‘bikies’. These laws have been vigorously debated and are purported to be the subject of a High Court challenge later in 2014. See RoLIA’s coverage of this issue here.

Northern Territory

There has been significant debate in the Northern Territory about a suite of laws designed to introduce both a staged mandatory sentencing scheme and mandatory residential alcohol treatment for people placed in protective custody more than three times in one month. This policy has been criticised for targeting Indigenous Australians.


The Victorian Government introduced minimum mandatory sentences for ‘gross violence’ offences in 2013 in response to community concerns about penalties for serious violence. ‘Gross violence’ is defined (in part) as being premeditated, in-company, or continuing the act of violence once a person is incapacitated.

Western Australia

There has been a spirited debate in Western Australia about the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences and fixed non-parole periods for a range of offences including assault of a police officer or public official.


A High Court decision Magaming v The Queen [2013] highlighted the minimum mandatory sentence provisions for people smuggling in the Migration Act.

~ Jackie

jackie_twitter_pic Jackie Charles is RoLIA’s Education Officer. Join the discussion about rule of law issues with Jackie on Twitter @JCharRoL.