Limitation Periods for Laying Charges (Vic)
In some circumstances the police and prosecuting agencies are limited in how long after an alleged offence they can lay charges. It is important to note that, in most circumstances, charges pertaining to indictable offences are not subject to a limitation period and court action of this nature can be commenced at any time. However, summary offences can only be charged within the limitation period. This article outlines the criminal law limitation periods in Victoria.
Limitation periods for state-based summary offences
Under section 7 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009, charges pertaining to a summary offence must be commenced within 12 months of the date on which the offence is alleged to have been committed. An exception to this time limit exists where a different time limit is provided by any other legislation (such as the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Children Youth and Families Act, both outlined below) or where the accused provides written consent.
Limitation periods for matters prosecuted by the Victorian Workcover Authority
In relation to charges (other than workplace manslaughter) arising under the Occupational Heath and Safety Act, the Victorian Workcover Authority must commence proceedings within a two-year period of the incident that has given rise to action. There is no time limitation for the commencement of proceedings pertaining to workplace manslaughter.
The limitation period pertaining to matters prosecuted under the Occupational Health and Safety Act can be extended with written authorisation from the Director of Public Prosecutions. The limitation may also be extended to 12 months following the release of a coronial report or the conclusion of a coronial inquiry whereby the inquiry has shown that an indictable offence has been committed.
If during the course of an investigation, a person has provided the Victorian Workcover Authority with an undertaking which is later breached or withdrawn the Victorian Workcover Authority may issue charges pertaining to the investigation within 6 months of the time that the undertaking was contravened or withdrawn.
Proceedings against children
Where a child is accused of a criminal offence, the Children, Youth and Families Act limits the time in which the police may charge the child to 6 months from the date of the alleged offence. This limitation may be extended to 12 months at the discretion of the court. When determining whether to extend the time for the commencement of proceedings against a child, the court must consider, various factors, including;
- The child’s age;
- The reason for the delay in commencing proceedings and the length of the delay;
- The nature of the alleged offending; and
- Any other matters that the court considers relevant.
A child may also provide written consent to the commencement of proceedings beyond the limitation period. Prior to giving consent of this nature (to be given to a police officer of at least sergeant rank), the child must have received legal advice and must provide this consent in writing.
Limitation periods for Commonwealth Offences
The Commonwealth Crimes Act 1914 dictates at section 15B, the time limitations within which proceedings involving Commonwealth Offences must be commenced.
In keeping with the Crimes Act 1914, any proceedings against an individual carrying a maximum penalty of imprisonment of 6 months or less must be commenced within one year of the alleged offence. There is no time limitation for offences that carry a maximum term of imprisonment longer than 6 months.
Proceedings commenced against a corporation must be commenced within one year for any offence carrying a maximum penalty of 150 penalty units or less.
There is an unlimited time period for charging a person in relation to offences involving a corporation that carry a penalty of more than 150 penalty units or in circumstances involving an individual who aids or abets an offence by a corporation which carries a maximum penalty of more than 150 penalty units.
Other legislation can operation to alter the period of time in which proceedings can commence. Common circumstances where a limitation period is extended by legislation include actions commenced under the Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004 which impose no limitation for the commencement of proceedings pertaining to offences against the act, and the Fines Reform Act 2014 which provides various extensions of time for the filing of relevant charges.
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