Concurrent and Consecutive Sentences (ACT)
The criminal courts often sentence offenders for more than one criminal matter at the same time. This may be because more than one offence was committed on the same occasion or because offences committed on different occasions are being finalised together. When this occurs, the offender may be sentenced to more than one term of imprisonment. In the ACT, under the Crimes (Sentencing) Act 2005, courts may impose terms of imprisonment that are concurrent or consecutive. This page deals with concurrent and consecutive sentences in the ACT.
Concurrent terms of imprisonment are served at the same time. For example, if a person is sentenced to six months imprisonment for one offence and six months imprisonment for another offence, the total effective sentence (that is, the time they will actually spend in prison) is six months.
Consecutive terms of imprisonment are served one after the other. For example, if a person is sentenced to six months imprisonment for one offence and six months for another offence and the terms are made consecutive, the total effective sentence will be 12 months.
Partly consecutive sentences
A partly consecutive sentence is a sentence part of which is to be served at the same time as another sentence, and part of which must be served after the other sentence has finished being served. For example, if a person is sentenced to sex months imprisonment for one offence and six months imprisonment for another offence, with three months of the second sentence to be consecutive on the first, the total effective sentence is nine months imprisonment.
Under section 71 of the Crimes (Sentencing) Act 2005, a court may direct that sentences be served consecutively or partly consecutively.
Offences committed in custody
Under section 72 of the Crimes (Sentencing) Act 2005, a sentence is to be served consecutively unless the court orders otherwise if:
Where a person is being sentenced for an offence that was committed:
- while they were in lawful custody
- while they were unlawfully absent from a place they were in lawful custody
or for an offence involving escaping lawful custody.
Under section 73 of the Crimes (Sentencing) Act 2005, a sentence that is imposed in default of payment of a fine must be served consecutively with any other sentence that is imposed in default of payment of a fine, but concurrently with any other existing sentence.
How courts decide whether sentence is concurrent or consecutive
When a court is deciding whether to order that a sentence be served concurrently with or consecutively on another sentence, it will consider a range of factors including:
- whether the offence are similar in nature
- whether they were committed against the same victim
- whether they arose out of a single criminal enterprise
- whether offences committed during the same episode are of similar nature
In a case where there has been significant violence on more than one occasion or where the victim is different, at least part of the sentence will generally be ordered to be served consecutively.
The totality principle
When a court is considering the appropriate sentence to impose for more than one offence, it must have regard to the totality principle. This is the long-standing common law principle that the aggregation of sentences imposed must be a just and appropriate measure of the total criminality involved. The court must not simply assess the appropriate sentence for each individual offence but must look at the appropriate sentence for all of the offending.
The aggregate sentence is the total sentence imposed on a person by a court.
In the ACT Magistrates Court, the maximum sentence that can be imposed for a single offence is two years imprisonment. The maximum aggregate sentence that can be imposed is imprisonment for five years.
In the ACT Supreme Court, the maximum sentence that can be imposed for a single offence is determined by the maximum penalty set under legislation for that offence. There is no maximum aggregate sentence in the Supreme Court.
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