Forum Sentencing is a new sentencing option operating at selected NSW Local Courts. It involves bringing together an offender, their victim(s), and other people affected by a crime at a ‘Forum’. The Forum Sentencing option allows eligible offenders who are facing a likely sentence of imprisonment to instead complete an Intervention Plan in the community.
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Who is eligible?
To be able to participate in the Forum Sentencing Program, the person must be:
- An adult offender in the selected NSW Local Court (see the list below for participating Courts);
- Facing a likely sentence of imprisonment after pleading guilty or have been found guilty by the court; and
- Never served a custodial sentence before (including a suspended sentence).
Offences commonly dealt with via Forum Sentencing include (but are not limited to): common assault, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, break and enter, malicious damage, serious drink driving, theft (shoplifting, possess stolen property, steal from employer), fraud and drug possession.
Forum Sentencing is not available to offenders who have committed certain serious offences such as rape, murder, stalking, firearms offences, drug supply, and some types of domestic violence. Some serious prior offences also make offenders ineligible.
Where does it operate?
The Forum Sentencing Program currently operates in the following Courts:
- Bankstown, Sutherland and Kogarah Local Courts
- Burwood, Newtown and Balmain Local Courts
- Campbelltown, Camden, Picton and Moss Vale Local Courts
- Coffs Harbour, Grafton, Bellingen, Macksville and Maclean Local Courts
- Downing Centre, Waverley and Central Local Courts
- Gosford, Wyong and Woy Woy Local Courts
- Lismore, Ballina, Casino and Kyogle Local Courts
- Liverpool and Fairfield Local Courts
- Newcastle, Toronto, Belmont and Raymond Terrace Local Courts
- Parramatta and Ryde Local Courts
- Tweed Heads, Mullumbimby, Byron Bay and Murwillumbah Local Courts
What is a ‘forum’?
A Forum is a facilitated meeting between a victim, offender and victims support people, police and other people affected by a crime. They discuss what happened, how people were affected by the crime, and prepare an ‘Intervention Plan’ for the offender to complete in the community.
An Intervention Plan may include:
- An apology and/or payment of reparations to the victim;
- Work for the victim or the community;
- Participation in a relevant education or rehabilitation program; and/or
- Other measures to help offenders address their offending behaviour and reintegrate into the community.
What are the steps involved?
If an offender is interested in participating in the Forum Sentencing Program, their lawyer can make a request to the Magistrate for a referral.
If the Magistrate considers the offender to be eligible for the Program, they will refer them to the Program Administrator for a suitability assessment. Matters they take into account in assessing an offender’s suitability include:
- Whether the offender accept the police facts and their responsibility for the offence;
- Whether the offender understands what will happen at the Forum and is willing to take part; and
- Whether the offender is willing to discuss and be part of deciding how they can repair the harm caused by their offending.
If the offender is assessed to be eligible and suitable for the Program, the Court can make a Forum Participation Order. The following will occur:
- A facilitator will then organise the Forum to take place, usually within 6 weeks.
- At the Forum, an Intervention Plan will be developed, which is then sent to the Court for an approval.
- If the Court approves the Plan, the offender undertakes the list of actions detailed in the Plan, before, or as part of a sentence.
- When the offender satisfactorily completes the Intervention Plan, Forum Sentencing notifies the court. If the plan was part of a sentence, and all other parts of the sentence have been completed, the matter is finalised. If the case was adjourned to allow the actions detailed in the Plan to be undertaken, the court will consider the offender’s completion of those actions during sentencing.
- If the offender does not complete the plan, they may be required to reappear in court.