County Court Drug and Alcohol Treatment Court (Vic)

In 2022, the Victorian Sentencing Act 1991 was amended to include a County Court Drug and Alcohol Treatment Court (DATC). This is the first time that the Victorian County Court has included a drug and alcohol treatment division. This page outlines how the new division works.

What is the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Court?

The DATC is a special division of the County Court that deals with offenders who are pleading guilty to offences that arose out of a drug or alcohol dependency.

The DATC has the power to sentence offenders to Drug and Alcohol Treatment Orders (DATOs). DATOs are orders that require the offender to take specific steps to address their substance abuse issues under judicial supervision.

The court aims to support offenders to overcome their drug or alcohol dependency, reduce their level of offending and improve their health.

The introduction of the DATC follows the rollout of a Magistrates Court Drug and Alcohol Court in Victoria in 2002.

Who can be dealt with by the DATC?

The DATC may deal with offenders who are:

  • pleading guilty to an offence
  • suffering from a drug or alcohol dependency
  • able to demonstrate that the offence is connected to the dependency
  • facing a penalty of immediate imprisonment for not more than four years
  • living within the catchment area
  • willing to consent to a DATO.

A person cannot be dealt with by the DATC if:

  • they are charged with an offence for which a sentence of four years imprisonment would be manifestly inadequate
  • they are charged with a sexual offence or an offence involving actual bodily harm
  • they are charged with an offence that is excluded under stature – for example, aggravated home invasion
  • they are subject to a parole order, a sentence of the Supreme Court, or a Community Corrections Order.

Getting into the Drug Court

A person (or their lawyer) can apply for a matter to be dealt with by the DATC either when the matter is at the committal stage, or when it is listed in the County Court criminal list.

Under section 4AAB of the County Court Act 1958, the matter will be sent to the DATC if:

  • it appears the accused is eligible to be dealt with by the DATC
  • the accused lives within the catchment area
  • the accused consents to the matter being referred to the DATC.

The accused will be required to be assessed by the DATC clinical advisor and case manager. If they are assessed as suitable for a treatment order, they will then be required to attend a directions hearing, where the court will ensure that parties are aware of the court’s processes and filing requirements and make an assessment as to whether the accused is eligible.

If the accused is assessed as eligible, they will then be required to undergo further assessment and screening. These assessments will look at their substance use, their medical and psychosocial support needs, their non-clinical support needs and offence-specific risk factors and their capacity to comply with the treatment order.

The accused will then be required to attend a determination hearing where they will enter their guilty pleas and a formal decision will be made as to whether they are suitable for a treatment order. If they are not found to be suitable, the matter may be referred back to the general list, or the judge may deliver a sentence on the spot. If they are found suitable, the matter will proceed to a sentencing hearing and a DATO will be imposed.  

Drug and Alcohol Treatment Orders

A Drug and Alcohol Treatment Order consists of a custodial term (not more than four years) and a treatment and supervision part. The supervision and treatment component of a DATO is an individually tailored program that aims to rehabilitate an offender through:

  • judicial monitoring
  • clinical engagement
  • drug testing
  • stable accommodation
  • employment and literacy training
  • offender-specific programmes
  • other prescribed conditions and programmes.

While subject to the DATO, the person will be required to attend case conferences and review hearings. In the first phase of the order, these reviews will be held weekly. The purpose of these events is to inform the court of the person’s progress and to provide them with ongoing support.

Cancelling a DATO

A DATO may be cancelled on application by the prosecution. The reasons this may occur include that:

  • the offender has committed another offence
  • the offender’s circumstances were not accurately represented when the order was made
  • the offender will not be able to comply with a condition because their circumstances have changed
  • the offender is not willing to comply with one or more conditions
  • the continuation of the order is not likely to achieve the purposes for which it was made

If a DATO is cancelled, the offender will be resentenced in the main criminal list of the County Court.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.  

Author

Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.
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