Sentencing of federal offenders

In July 2004, the federal Attorney-General, the Hon Philip Ruddock MP, asked the ALRC to examine the laws and practices governing sentencing of federal offenders, that is, people convicted of criminal offences set out in Commonwealth, rather than state and territory, legislation.

The terms of reference directed the ALRC to consider whether Part IB of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) was an appropriate, effective and efficient mechanism for the sentencing, administration and release of federal offenders. In particular, the ALRC was asked to have regard to issues such as the changing nature and scope of federal criminal law, the relatively small number of federal offenders compared with state and territory offenders, and consistency in the treatment of federal offenders across Australia.

Key recommendations

ALRC Report 103 is over 900 pages long and contains 147 recommendations for reform of the law relating to sentencing of federal offenders. A significant number of these recommendations are aimed at encouraging consistency in the treatment of federal offenders throughout Australia.

See List of Recommendations for a general summary.

The Executive Summary in ALRC Report 103 contains a comprehensive summary of the key findings and recommendations in the report. 


The recommendations in Same Crime Same Time: Sentencing of Federal Offenders (ALRC Report 103) are addressed to a wide range of parties and not merely the Australian Government. For this reason, the report contains an implementation schedule listing the action required of different bodies to implement the recommendations in ALRC Report 103.

At a Federal Criminal Justice Forum (28-29 September 2008, Canberra) the Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Bob Debus MP noted that some of the main priorities for action that emerged from the forum included:

  • implementation of Same Crime, Same Time. The Minister added that the report is now being actively considered;
  • providing more diversionary options for sentencing judges and magistrates (which is considered in Same Crime, Same Time); and
  • establishment of a Federal Parole Board (Recommendation 23-1).

Federal Sentencing Database

The National Judicial College, Judicial Commission and New South Wales and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions have established a federal sentencing database. In ALRC Report 103, the ALRC recommended that the Australian Government should continue to support the development of a comprehensive national database on the sentences imposed on all federal offenders (Recommendation 21-1).

Criminal jurisdiction of the Federal Court of Australia

Recommendation 18-2 stated that the Australian Parliament should expand the original jurisdiction of the Federal Court of Australia to hear and determine proceedings in relation to nominated federal offences whose subject matter is closely allied to the existing civil jurisdiction of the Federal Court, in areas such as taxation, trade practices and corporations law.

The Federal Court of Australia Amendment (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 2009 (Cth) provides a procedural framework which allows the Federal Court to exercise the indictable criminal jurisdiction which it will be given to deal with serious cartel offences now that the Trade Practices Amendment (Cartel Conduct and Other Measures) Act 2009 (Cth) has been enacted. 

Death penalty abolition

The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Torture Prohibition and Death Penalty Abolition) Act 2010 (Cth) amended the Commonwealth Death Penalty Abolition Act 1973 (Cth) to extend the application of the current prohibition on the death penalty to state laws, to ensure the death penalty cannot be introduced anywhere in Australia. The Act is consistent with the ALRC recommendations in Same Crime, Same Time: Sentencing of Federal Offenders that federal sentencing legislation should prohibit the following sentencing options in relation to federal offenders:

  • capital punishment;
  • corporal punishment;
  • imprisonment with hard labour; and
  • any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment (Recommendation 7-16)