This article was written by Michelle Makela - Legal Practice Director

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...

Drug Courts (NSW)


A Drug Court is a specialist court for adult offenders who have a drug dependency. These courts aim to help people overcome both drug dependency and criminal offending by diverting them into individual treatment programs supervised by the court for a minimum of 12 months. Drug matters may be addressed in a drug court instead of a Local or District Court.

The Drug Court tailors a treatment program to address the offender’s specific needs and plays a supervisory role during the treatment program. Drug Courts are different from other courts as they have three specific objectives:

  • To reduce the drug dependency of eligible persons
  • To promote the reintegration of such drug dependent persons into the community
  • To reduce the need for such drug dependent persons to resort to criminal activity to support their drug dependencies.

There are three Drug Courts currently operating in NSW. They are located in Sydney, Parramatta and Toronto.

Why attend a Drug Court?

No one is forced to attend a drug court. However, in some circumstances, electing to go to a Drug Court presents significant benefits such as:

  • Allowing a person to remain out of prison in order to participate in the Drug Court program
  • Enabling the person to improve their long-term quality of life
  • Helping the person break the cycle of drug-related crime which reduces their chances of reoffending.

Research has found that the Drug Court is better at reducing the rate of re-offending among offenders who had committed drug-related crimes than prison. In 2008 a study was undertaken that found offenders who completed the program were much less likely to be convicted of an offence than offenders who were not dealt with by the Drug Court. Also, offenders who completed the program showed are more likely to have better health outcomes than those not in the program.

Attending a Drug Court is not an easy option. A person considering doing so must be aware that it imposes onerous requirements on them. However, if you have a strong desire to address your drug dependency it is worth considering the Drug Court program if you are eligible.

Am I eligible to participate in the Drug Court program?

To be eligible to participate in the Drug Court Program you must:

  • Be before one of the following Local or District Courts: Bankstown, Belmont, Blacktown, Burwood, Campbelltown, Cessnock, East Maitland, Fairfield, Kurri Kurri, Liverpool, Maitland, Mount Druitt, Newcastle, Parramatta, Penrith, Raymond Terrace, Richmond, Ryde, Toronto or Windsors
  • Have a “usual place of residence” within the Wester Sydney Catchment Area (i.e. Auburn; Bankstown City; Blacktown City; Campbelltown City; Fairfield City; Hawkesbury City; Holroyd City; Liverpool City; Parramatta City; Penrith, or the Hills Shire.); or have a “usual place of residence” within the Toronto Catchment Area (i.e. Cessnock City, Lake Macquarie City, Maitland City, Newcastle City, Port Stephens)
  • Be willing to participate.

A person is not eligible if he or she:

  • Is under the age of 18 and/or is facing a charge before the Children’s Court
  • Is charged with an offence involving violent conduct, a sexual offence or an offence involving a strictly indictable offence of supplying prohibited drugs
  • Is suffering from a mental condition that could prevent or restrict participation in the program (this does not prevent referral to the Drug Court. An assessment will be made after referral as to whether the person is capable of participating if properly medicated).

Additional eligibility requirements include:

  • Being highly likely to be sentenced to full-time imprisonment if convicted
  • Having indicated that they will plead guilty to the offence
  • Being dependent on the use of prohibited drugs (excluding a dependency solely on alcohol or prescribed medication such as benzodiazepines other than rohypnol).

If you have already been convicted of offences the eligibility criteria are wider.

Satisfying these criteria does not guarantee you a position

There are usually insufficient positions to service the number of referrals received by the Drug Courts so you may be placed into a weekly random selection process. In addition, the Drug Court has the discretion to exclude a person from the program if the court is concerned the person may behave violently in the program, or the person is incapable of participating because they will remain in custody serving a sentence, or where bail is refused.

If you are not accepted into the program you will continue to be dealt with as though you never sought to be referred to the Drug Court.

What is involved if the court decides that you are eligible?

If the court finds a person eligible, it requires they do the following.

Detoxification

If the court decides that a person is eligible, they are taken into custody for approximately two weeks of detoxification and assessment. All participants, including those who have been granted bail, must enter custody.

Whilst in custody requirements of the Drug Court are further explained to them. They will receive a copy of the undertaking which details the conditions of a Drug Court program. During this time their Drug Court program (known as their Treatment and Case Plan) is drawn up.

Initial sentence

Once their treatment plan is ready, you will return to the Drug Court to receive an initial sentence for the charges for which you were referred to the Drug Court. The court suspends this initial sentence upon you entering into your Treatment and Case Plan.

Participation

The Drug Court program is designed to meet their specific needs.

Treatment options include abstinence and methadone and buprenorphine programs conducted in either the community or residential rehabilitation settings. Ongoing psychiatric treatment is provided.

All programs involve:

  • Evidence-based drug treatment
  • Social support and the development of living skills
  • Regular reports to the Court regarding their progress
  • Regular testing for drug use.

What happens during the program?

During the program, participants work through 3 phase.

Initiation phase

Participants are expected to reduce drug use, stabilise their physical health, and cease criminal activity. Participants are required to undergo drug testing at least three times a week and to report back to the Drug Court once a week.

Consolidation phase

Participants are expected to remain drug-free and crime-free, and develop life and job skills. Testing for drug use is conducted twice weekly and report-back court appearances occur fortnightly.

Reintegration phase

Participants are expected to gain or be ready to gain employment and to be financially responsible. Drug testing is conducted twice weekly and report-back court appearances are conducted monthly.

Ending the program

A person’s participation in the Drug Court program may end for a number of reasons:

  • Successful completion
  • At their request
  • When the court decides that they are unlikely to make any further progress in the program or that further participation poses an unacceptable risk to the community that they will re-offend.

At the end of the program, the court will consider the initial sentence. The court will take into account the nature of their participation in the program and any sanctions that have been imposed on your son/daughter during the program and any time spent in custody during the program.

When the court finds that a participant substantially complied with a program a non-custodial sentence is the usual order; however, this is not always the case. Importantly, the court cannot increase the initial sentence.

What do participants say?

Research has shown that the participants in the program viewed the manner in which the court treated them as fair. The majority of participants thought that the treatments services were satisfactory and participants were grateful for the opportunity to have taken part in the Drug Court program. Some participants expressed feelings of personal success at being able to abstain from illicit drugs and regain control of their lives. They said that being able to restore family relationships was one of the most rewarding aspects of being on the program.

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

WHERE TO NEXT?

If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

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