Keeping Up Is Hard to Do:
A Trial Judge’s Reading Blog


In its report, Sentencing Sex Offences in Victoria: An Analysis of Three Sentencing Reforms, June 22, 2021,  the Sentencing Advisory Council examines “sentencing outcomes for six contact sex offence types sentenced in Victoria between 2010 and 2019. It considers whether sentencing practices changed for those six offences in the 10-year period and if so whether legislative and judicial reforms influenced the changes”.

The “three reforms” were described in the following manner (at pages 5 to 6):

As at 20 March 2017, some serious sex offences were classified as Category 1 offences. This classification requires courts to impose a term of imprisonment.

As at 1 February 2018, some serious sex offences were classified as standard sentence offences. This classification provides courts with numerical guidance about a sentence that reflects the mid-range of objective seriousness, and prohibits courts from taking past sentencing practices into account.

Finally, the various Dalgliesh decisions by the High Court and the Victorian Court of Appeal held that sentencing practices for incest were inappropriately low and required immediate rectification.

Key Findings:

The Advisory Council summarized its “key findings” as follows (at pages 9 to 10):

  • while the number of police-recorded sex offences against children increased during the reference period (25%), the number of recorded sex offences against adults more than doubled (increasing by 107%);
  • despite this significant increase in recorded sex offences (63%), the number of sentenced sex offences actually decreased slightly (–8%), indicative of an increasing attrition rate between offences being recorded and offences being sentenced;
  • the majority of sentenced sex offences in Victoria were committed against children rather than against adults (at least 55% of offences, and probably closer to 64% given that most incest offending involves child victims);
  • the sentence types imposed for sex offences changed very little, the main exception being a steady increase in the rate of immediate custodial sentences in the Magistrates’ Court for child sexual assaults (from 23% to 40%);
  • average prison sentences were longer for most standard sentence sex offences (rape, incest, child sexual penetration offences and child sexual assault) by the end of the reference period;
  • the average prison sentence for adult sexual assault offences, though not standard sentence offences, also has increased (in the higher courts) since 2016; and
  • the offence type with the greatest shift in sentence lengths (incest) was also the offence type subject to the most reform: the combination of its classification as a standard sentence offence, the various Dalgliesh decisions, and the ability to charge incest as a course of conduct offence together resulted in notably longer prison sentences, particularly in 2019.