Courts should make the call on diversion

Courts should make the call on diversion

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Managing Lawyer Summary Crime Julia Lever-Davidson and Lawyer David DeWitt recently appeared at a Law Week Forum discussing diversion programs.

The forum highlighted that not referring people charged with low level offences to a diversion program was a 'wasted opportunity' for them to make changes in their lives.

The Rights Advocacy Project, an initiative of Liberty Victoria, also recently launched a report titled, Justice Diverted? Prosecutorial discretion and the use of diversion schemes in Victoria.

​Authored by Emily Scott, Bethany King, Saranya Saravanan and David DeWitt, the report called for a change to the Crimes Act that would give the court, rather than prosecutors, the right to decide on whether an offender is referred to a diversion program.

Diversion programs direct people who are charged with a criminal offence to make reparations to victims and participate in rehabilitation programs and other community activities instead of receiving a criminal conviction.

At present the decision to grant diversion lies with the prosecution, generally Victoria Police.

That makes the granting of diversion a hit or miss affair, say advocates for the new system.

'The trouble is that it's patchy across the state, with different practices used in different locations,' said Julia.

'There is a lot of discretion involved.'

That was despite the fact that diversion schemes are one of t​he most effective ways to reduce reoffending.

'While some might think of diversion as a soft option, that's not the case, because it requires people to undertake hard work and understand the causes of their offending.

'It also provides the opportunity for personal accountability,' she said.

Diversion gives the accused the opportunity to be put in touch with services in the community that can support them to reduce the causes of their offending.

'It can also be a very positive outcome for victims when there is the opportunity for reparations and apologies,' she added.

Magistrate Susan Wakeling pointed out that even when an accused received a fine or good behaviour bond rather than a criminal penalty, not referring them to a diversion service was a wasted opportunity.

'Diversion gives them a chance to reflect, to get encouragement from police and court and go away to achieve an exercise they've been given to help them progress with their lives.'

More information

Read the Justice Diverted? Prosecutorial discretion and the use of diversion schemes in Victoria​ report​

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