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Penalties for Criminal Offences (NSW)

When a person is found guilty or pleads guilty to a criminal offence or offences, the court must decide on the appropriate penalty or penalties. New South Wales courts have a variety of sentencing options, including fines, terms of imprisonmentconditional release orders and good behaviour bonds. This article outlines the available penalties for criminal offences in NSW.

Purposes of Sentencing

In NSW, the relevant legislation in respect to sentencing offenders is the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999. Magistrates and Judges must take into account all of the following purposes of sentencing:

  1. To ensure that the person is adequately punished for the offence;
  2. To prevent crime by deterring the person and other persons from committing similar offences;
  3. To protect the community from the offender;
  4. To promote the offender’s rehabilitation;
  5. To make the offender accountable for their actions.
  6. To denounce the offender’s conduct;
  7. To recognise the harm done to the victim and the community.

The court will also take into account the offender’s personal circumstances (known as “subjective circumstances”) and any mitigating or aggravating factors that go to the objective seriousness of the offence.

Courts generally have a wide discretion to decide what sentence to impose and an offender is entitled to a 25% reduction on the penalty that would otherwise be imposed if the offender pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity. However, courts’ discretion is limited by the maximum and minimum penalties that can be imposed for an offence under the legislation. They must also be guided by case law as to the appropriate penalty range for a particular kind of offending and as to what factors must be taken into consideration. There are also jurisdictional limits that restrict the penalties courts can impose. For example, the Magistrates may only impose a maximum prison term of two years for a single offence

The Penalties

The penalties available in NSW are set out below.

Conditional Release Order (CRO) and Intervention Plan 

These two types of CROs are good behaviour bonds that can be imposed without convictions being recorded. Most CROs imposed fall under s10(1)(b) not 10(1)(c). A CRO can be up to two years and they act as a warning for low level offending.

A person cannot receive both a CRO without conviction and a monetary fine.

A breach of a CRO can be dealt with in one of three ways, namely, it can be revoked, varied or no action can be taken.

Conviction with no other penalty

If you receive a penalty under Section 10A, this essentially means that you are convicted of the offence however no other penalty is imposed. This penalty is available for circumstances where a court considers a CRO is inappropriate because an offence is not trivial and it is not pragmatic to impose any further penalty.


A fine is a financial penalty. When a fine is imposed, a conviction is also recorded. The amount of the fine cannot be greater than the maximum fine available for the particular offence.

The court will order the defendant to pay the fine within 28 days. By law the court cannot give a person more time to pay the fine; however, the person can make an application to pay the fine by instalments.

A fine is not the same as a Compensation Order.

Conditional Release Order 

A Conditional Release Order (CRO) means the court has placed the offender on a good behaviour bond.  This can be done with or without the recording of a conviction.  

Community Corrections Order 

A court can impose a Community Corrections Order (CCO) under section 8. A court is likely to impose a CCO if the offending does not warrant full-time imprisonment or an Intensive Corrections Order but it is nonetheless too serious to be dealt with by a fine or CRO.

A CCO can be for a period of up to three years. When a CCO is ordered, a conviction is recorded. A CCO can be imposed in addition to a fine but it cannot be imposed for a fine-only offence.

The benefit of CCOs is that they are a flexible sentence that the court can tailor to reflect the offender’s needs and the nature of the criminality being dealt with. A breach of a CCO can be dealt with in one of three ways, namely, it can be revoked, varied or no action can be taken.

Intensive Correction Order

Under section 7, courts have the power to impose an Intensive Correction Order (ICO). If an ICO is imposed, this means a certain threshold (known as the section 5 threshold) has been crossed. An ICO is not a good behaviour bond; it is a term of imprisonment that is served in the community.

A person can receive an ICO of up to three years for multiple offences. For a single offence, an ICO can be for a maximum duration of two years. Supervision by Community Corrections (aka Probation and Parole) is mandatory and any breaches are dealt with by Community Corrections and the NSW State Parole Authority, and not by the courts.

Essentially, ICOs place an emphasis on control, supervision and rehabilitation.

Prison & Parole

A term of imprisonment is the harshest penalty available to NSW courts. In NSW, a term of imprisonment (or youth detention, for a person under 18) can be ordered with or without a non-parole period. 

At Armstrong Legal, our goal is to not only achieve the best result but also ensure our clients understand what can be realistically achieved during the course of their matter and our lawyers are well equipped to advise clients as to the likely penalty should they plead guilty or be found guilty.  

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

Elizabeth Tsitsos - Senior Associate - Sydney

This article was written by Elizabeth Tsitsos - Senior Associate - Sydney

Elizabeth is a highly accomplished defence lawyer with expertise in State and Commonwealth criminal matters including domestic violence, drug supply, sexual assaults including historical child sexual assault cases, and armed robberies involving joint criminal enterprises. Focusing her practice exclusively on criminal defence, Elizabeth has appeared for clients charged with murder, terrorism, sexual assault and drug supply, including cases involving large...

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