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Drug Diversion Programs in the NT

Drug diversion programs in the NT (Northern Territory) are designed to divert those charged with more minor drug offences away from the courts. They are available to adults through an Infringement Notice system; for young people, there is a warning or cautioning system which can be offered through the police or the court.

All of these diversion options allow relevant drug offences to be finalised without the offender taking part in the normal court process and receiving a criminal record.

The law that governs these diversions is the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Youth Justice Act.

Drug Diversion Programs in the Northern Territory

Infringement Notices

One of the primary drug diversion programs in the NT occurs through the issuing of an Infringement Notice.

If a police officer believes that a prescribed drug offence has been committed by an adult, they may serve them with an Infringement Notice. It may be served by:

  • handing it to them
  • posting it to them, or
  • leaving it at their home or work address.

If the amount set out in the infringement notice is paid within the time specified in the notice (28 days), no further action will be taken – the person is taken to have ‘expiated’ the offence and can’t be again charged for this particular offence in the future.

In March 2016, the maximum penalty payable for these offences on the issue of an Infringement Notice was $260.10.

Infringement Notice Offences

Infringement Notices can apply in respect of offences involving:

  • a prohibited plant if the plant is a cannabis plant and there are not more than 2 plants being grown, or
  • a dangerous drug where the drug is one specified in column 1 and the amount of the drug is less than that specified in column 2.
    Column 1
    Form of Cannabis
    Column 2
    Quantity
    Oil 1.00g
    Resin 10.00g
    Seed 10.00g
    Plant material – any part of the plant, including leaves, seeds, stalks, and/or the fruiting or flowering tops 50.00g

Drug Diversion Programs in the NT – Youth

There are specific drug diversion programs in the NT for youth offenders, but, unlike the programs for adults, the youth programs are available for all types of offences, not just drug offences. The youth may be diverted to a program by the police or the courts.

Youth Drug Diversions – Police

A youth is a person under 18 years of age. If a police officer believes that an offence has been committed by a youth, the officer must, instead of charging them, either:

  • give them a verbal warning
  • give them a written warning
  • refer them to a Youth Justice Conference, or
  • refer them to a diversion program

unless

  • they have left the Territory
  • their whereabouts are unknown
  • the offence is a serious offence
  • they have on 2 occasions been dealt with by a Youth Justice Conference, a diversion program, or a combination of the two, or
  • they have some other history that makes them unsuitable for diversion.

The Commissioner of Police has the power to authorise a referral to a Youth Justice Conference or a diversion program despite the fact that the case falls within one or more of these exceptions.

Procedure for Youth Diversions – Police

A police officer must not divert a youth unless the youth and an adult who exercises parental responsibility over them agree to the diversion. If it is not possible or practicable for the police to get the adult’s consent, they may give the youth a verbal warning. If the youth or the adult don’t consent to the diversion, then the police may charge the youth.

If a youth is diverted and the diversion is satisfactorily completed, there can be no further criminal investigation or criminal legal proceedings against the youth in respect of the offence.

Any admission made or information given by the youth during the diversion cannot be used in any future criminal or civil proceedings in relation to the offence.

A decision to divert or not to divert a youth, or a decision as to whether they did or didn’t satisfactorily complete a diversion, can’t be reviewed or appealed in any court or tribunal.

Youth Diversion – Court

Court diversion is available for all types of offences, including drug offences.

  • If the police and the young person agree, the Court may, at any time before a guilty finding, adjourn the proceedings and refer the young person for assessment for inclusion in a diversion program or a Youth Justice Conference.
  • If the program is completed satisfactorily, the Court may discharge them without any other penalty.
  • If it is not completed satisfactorily the court must revoke the order and deal with them as if they had been found guilty of the offence(s).

When sentencing them, the Court must take into account the extent to which they complied with the diversion program and cannot impose a more severe penalty than it would if they had not entered the program.

Privacy Issues – Drug Diversion Programs in the NT

Privacy is a key aspect of the drug diversion programs in the NT. No details regarding the participation in a  program can be published, unless it is statistical data that does not identify any individual.

A person who breaches this is liable for a maximum penalty of $30,600 or imprisonment for 12 months. If the offender is a body corporate the penalty is $153,000.

This article reflects the state of the law as at 11 March 2016. It is intended to be of a general nature only and does not constitute legal advice. If you require legal assistance, please telephone 1300 636 846 or request a consultation at gotocourt.com.au.

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