Sentencing Principles (NT)

When a court sentences an offender, it is guided by sentencing principles set out in legislation. Section 5 of the Sentencing Act 1995 sets out the purposes for which sentencing orders may be imposed in the Northern Territory. This page deals with sentencing principles in the Northern Territory.


Under section 5 of the Sentencing Act 1995, a sentence may be imposed for one or more of the following purposes:

  • To punish the offender to the extent or in the way that is just in the circumstances
  • To provide conditions that will help the offender to be rehabilitated
  • To deter the offender or other persons from committing similar offences
  • To make it clear that the community does not approve of the conduct
  • To protect the community from the offender

Balancing different sentencing principles

Sentencing principles overlap with and sometimes conflict with each other. In any given criminal matter, some sentencing principles will be a higher priority than others. When courts are assessing the sentencing purposes to prioritise the appropriate sentencing orders to make, they must have regard to:

  • The maximum and minimum penalty
  • The nature of the offence and any harm caused
  • The extent to which the offender is to blame for the offence
  • Any damage, injury or loss caused
  • Any harm done to the community
  • The offender’s age, character and intellectual capacity
  • And aggravating or mitigating factors
  • The prevalence of the offence
  • How much assistance the offender gave to la w enforcement
  • The offender’s conduct during the proceeding
  • Whether the offender pleaded guilty
  • Any time spent in custody prior to sentencing
  • Any sentences served by the offender for offences committed around the same time as this offence
  • Any sentences that have been imposed and not yet served
  • Sentences the offender is liable to serve because of revocation of orders
  • If the offender is subject to a community work order, their compliance with the order.
  • Any other relevant circumstance.

Just punishment

A sentence may be imposed with the aim of punishing the offender. The sentence should be proportionate to the objective seriousness of the offending and should not be too harsh or too lenient.

Sentences imposed in the interests of just punishment recognise the harm caused to the victim or to the community as a whole. They aim to make the victims of offences and the broader community feel that justice has been done. 


Rehabilitation is an important sentencing consideration, especially when a court is dealing with a young offender or with a person who has not offended before. Rehabilitation aims to support the person to become a law-abiding and productive citizen and avoid coming into contact with the justice system again.

A sentence that is made in the interest of rehabilitation may include conditions that the offender complete programs such as drug or alcohol counselling or anger management or that they undertake community work. 


Deterrence is often the primary purpose for which a sentence is imposed. A sentence may be imposed in the interests of specific deterrence, in the interests of general deterrence, or both.

General deterrence aims to discourage other people from committing similar offences. It is most relevant when a person is being sentenced for an offence that is very prevalent such as drink driving or domestic violence.

Specific deterrence aims to discourage this particular offender from committing similar offences in the future. It is most relevant when a person is a repeat offender and is considered likely to continue to offend if not sent a strong message.


The sentencing principle of denunciation aims to publicly condemn the offender’s actions. Sentences made in the interest of denunciation aim to send a message that society does not approve of the offender’s behaviour.

Denunciation is particularly relevant in cases where the offence violates the basic moral standards of the community such as child sex offences.

Community protection

A sentence may be imposed in the interests of protecting the community from an offender. However, the sentence that is handed down must reflect the seriousness of the offence that has been committed. It must not be imposed as a protective measure against future offending. 

Sentencing principles for young offenders

When a person under 18 is sentenced for offences, they will usually be sentenced under the Youth Justice Act 2005. Section 4 of the Youth Justice Act 2005 sets out the principles that apply when a youth is being sentenced. These are different from (but overlap with) the principles set out in the Sentencing Act 1995.

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


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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