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Assistance to Authorities

There are two main kinds of assistance that a person can provide to police when they are investigating an offence. A person can confess to an offence that police did not know about, or provide police with evidence against a second person who they did not know was involved. This article outlines how a suspect’s assistance to authorities can be taken into account when they are sentenced.


The case of Ellis (1986) 6 NSWLR involved an offender who had committed a number of armed robberies on post offices and commercial premises. After confessing to a minister of religion, he decided to contact a solicitor and then confessed his involvement to police.

The court said “the disclosure of an otherwise unknown guilt merits a significant added element of leniency, the degree of which will vary according to the likelihood of that guilt being discovered by the law enforcement authorities, as well as guilt being established against the person concerned.”

In other words, a person is entitled to a significant discount on the sentence they receive if they inform police about their actions when they had no reason to suspect the person had done anything wrong. However, the size of the discount a person receives will depend on how likely they were to be discovered without having made the confession.

There are other benefits in going to police on your own terms. You can avoid the embarrassing situation of being arrested in front of your family or co-workers. Additionally, you will be far more likely to either get bail or to be granted bail on more favourable terms.

You need to think carefully about all these factors before you provide assistant to authorities by confessing involvement in a serious criminal matter. If you are planning on confessing, it is best to do so as soon as possible, in order to ensure that the matter is before a court before a complaint is made to police and the opportunity is lost.

By making the decision to turn yourself in, you can arrange for a lawyer to attend the police station with you, following discussions about the best way to approach the police, and what you are likely to be charged with.

It is important to talk to a lawyer who can give you accurate, relevant advice about how you can obtain the best discount for your honest admission of guilt.

Providing assistance to authorities

Section 23 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 indicates that the court may impose a lesser penalty than it would otherwise oppose if the offender has given assistance to authorities in the prevention, detection or investigation… of the offence concerned or any other offence.

What this means is that if you provide police assistance, usually by giving them names of other people involved in your offence or other offences that you know of, your sentence can be drastically reduced.

In deciding how much to reduce a sentence by, the court takes into account various factors including the usefulness of the information, the nature and extent of the assistance given, the truthfulness of the information given and any danger or risk that giving the information exposed the offender to.

It should be said, however, that providing assistance to police puts you in a very tricky position. To ensure that you get the full benefit for providing the assistance, and to ensure that your rights are protected, it is essential that you are carefully advised and able to maintain control of the situation.

It is important that you speak to an experienced criminal lawyer and obtain advice in relation to any assistance that you may want to provide to ensure that you gain maximum benefit from doing so.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Michelle Makela

This article was written by Michelle Makela

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (State and Federal Industrial Tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

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