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This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

Drug Court and Drug Treatment Orders (Vic)


The Drug Court is a division of the Magistrates Court in Victoria which can make drug treatment orders to rehabilitate offenders who have a drug or alcohol dependency. This authority is granted by the Sentencing Act 1991.

Drug Treatment Orders

The rehabilitation of the offender and the protection of the community are the greatest priorities for the court in deciding on an order. The Act states the four purposes of a drug treatment order are to:

  • facilitate the rehabilitation of the offender by providing court-supervised, therapeutic, integrated drug or alcohol treatment and supervision;
  • consider the offender’s drug or alcohol dependency;
  • reduce criminal activity associated with drug or alcohol dependency;
  • reduce the offender’s health risks associated with drug or alcohol dependency.

Eligibility

A drug treatment order can be made if the offender:

  • pleads guilty to an offence punishable by imprisonment (other than a sexual offence or an offence involving actual bodily harm);
  • is convicted;
  • is dependent on drugs or alcohol and the dependency contributed to the offence;
  • would otherwise have been sentenced to prison and the sentence would not have been suspended in whole or in part.

The Drug Court can make a drug treatment order regardless of whether the offender’s drug or alcohol dependency contributed to prior offences or bail breaches, or whether the offender has been sentenced to prison previously. It can be made in respect of more than one offence but an offender can be subject to only one drug treatment order at a time. The court must consider an assessment report before making an order.

If the Drug Court considers a drug treatment order is not suitable, it must sentence the offender (if the offender consents to this), or adjourn the matter to the Magistrates Court for sentencing.

Components

A drug treatment order consists of a treatment and supervision part and a custodial part. The first part contains the core conditions and program conditions and operates for 2 years. The second part is the prison sentence of up to 2 years the Drug Court must impose on the offender. The sentence must be that which would have been imposed if a drug treatment order had not been made. It can be activated if a core condition of the order is breached.

Core conditions

Core conditions that must be attached to a drug treatment order are that the offender must:

  • not commit an offence punishable on conviction by imprisonment;
  • attend Drug Court when ordered;
  • report to a specified community corrections centre or other specified place within 2 days of the order being made;
  • undergo specified treatment for drug and alcohol dependency;
  • report to and accept visits from an officer from community corrections or the Drug Court;
  • notify community corrections or the Drug Court of a change of address within 2 days;
  • not leave Victoria without permission from community corrections or the Drug Court;
  • obey all instructions from community corrections or the Drug Court.

Conditions that can be attached to the treatment and supervision part of the order include that the offender must:

  • submit to drug and alcohol testing;
  • submit to detoxification treatment;
  • attend vocational, educational or employment programs;
  • not associate with specified people;
  • live at a specified place for a specified period.

These conditions can be adjusted based on the offender’s progress. Such adjustments could include variations to the frequency of treatment, degree of supervision or frequency of testing.

Case conferences

A Drug Court magistrate can convene a case conference to assess the progress of an offender subject to a drug treatment order. The conference can include those involved with the offender, such as a lawyer, prosecutor, health professional, and community corrections officer.

Rewards

An offender who has been complying with the conditions of their drug treatment order can be rewarded in several ways. These include the removal of conditions or the cancellation of the remainder of the custodial part of the order. The Drug Court also has the option to cancel the drug treatment order itself as a reward if the offender has complied with conditions and the order is no longer necessary.

Sanctions

If the Drug Court considers an offender has failed to comply with a condition, without reasonable excuse, it can penalise the offender in one of several ways:

  • confirm or vary the treatment and supervision part of the order;
  • impose a curfew for a specified period;
  • order the offender perform up to 20 hours of unpaid community service work;
  • order the offender remain at a specified place for a specified period of up to 14 days;
  • activate the custodial part of the order for a specified period of 1 to 7 days.

If an offender is charged with an offence that could be heard in the Magistrates Court, the Drug Court can hear the matter.

If an offender commits an offence punishable on conviction by imprisonment of more than 12 months, the Drug Court must:

  • take any of the actions listed above; or
  • cancel the treatment and supervision part of the order and activate some or all of the custodial part; or
  • cancel the custodial part of the order and sentence the offender as if the order had not been made.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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