Victoria Legal Aid

Improving adjourned undertakings to promote a fairer criminal justice system

Increasing the use and accessibility of adjourned undertakings would more effectively support rehabilitation and prevent entrenchment in the criminal justice system.

Sunday 16 October 2022 11:10pm

We have made a range of recommendations to improve and increase the use of adjourned undertakings in Victoria, in a submission to the Sentencing Advisory Council’s consultation processExternal Link on the issue.

'In our practice experience, adjourned undertakings provide a flexible, problem-solving approach to sentencing,' said Kate Bundrock, Program Manager, Summary Crime.

'The conditions of an adjourned undertaking can be tailored to the needs of the individual person, helping to address the underlying causes of offending and any ongoing risk factors,' said Kate.

'When used well, adjourned undertakings provide the opportunity to craft a court outcome for First Nations people focused on culturally appropriate services, supporting links to culture and community.'

Our recommendations are designed to improve access to adjourned undertakings, particularly in regional and remote parts of the state and to ensure the opportunities for tailored support are being maximised.

Reducing entrenchment in the criminal justice system

Adjourned undertakings are an important tool to prevent further contact with the criminal justice system for people charged with low-level offences.

In our submission to the Sentencing Advisory Council, we support previous calls to decriminalise breaches of adjourned undertakings. In our practice experience, any non-compliance can be appropriately addressed through re-sentencing. This change would also bring Victoria in line with the approaches in most other states and territories in Australia, which do not criminalise breaches of similar orders.

We also reiterate recommendations made to other inquiries to amend bail laws, to reduce the impact of minor offending while on bail.

'Adjourned undertakings are the second most common sentencing outcome in Victoria. Under the current bail laws, someone on an adjourned undertaking for an indictable offence who commits another low-level indictable faces a reverse onus to be granted bail,' said Kate.

'The Sentencing Advisory Council’s consultation paper highlights that current bail laws place people who receive adjourned undertakings in a very precarious position. In our practice experience, the current bail laws have had a disproportionate impact on more disadvantaged groups and people charged with lower-level offending for which they are unlikely to receive a sentence of imprisonment.'

We remain concerned about the high numbers of First Nations people on remand. The starkest impact of the impact of recent bail reforms can be seen in the number of First Nations women on remand, which has increased five-fold over the past 10 years.

Improving access

The use of an adjourned undertaking when a criminal matter is proven can represent an important opportunity to intervene and address the issues in someone’s life which have contributed to them being before the court.

'For these opportunities to be maximised judicial officers should have access to guidance and training to support them to identify the most appropriate conditions for an individual’s circumstances,' said Kate.

'We also see the need to increase services and supports available for people in regional and remote communities to ensure an adjourned undertaking can be imposed when appropriate.'

We also recommend redesigning court forms and information about adjourned undertakings in consultation with people with lived experience of the criminal justice system so that they can be clearly understood.

More information

Read our full submission to the Sentencing Advisory Council, Reforming adjourned undertakings in VictoriaExternal Link .

Reviewed 17 October 2022