Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council’s review of the SVO Scheme


Earlier this month, the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council (QSAC) released their report reviewing the Serious Violent Offender (SVO) scheme.


With respect to certain violent, sexual and drug offences, the scheme imposes a mandatory non-parole period of 80% of any sentence over 10 years and a discretionary power with respect to 5 to 10 year sentences. The QSCA review showed that case law demonstrated that this 80% rule was resulting in overly narrow approaches to sentencing, which failed to consider all relevant factors. Further, the scheme’s attempts to protect the community overlooked the importance of supervised parole for community reintegration.


As part of its review process QSAC met with various stakeholders and received vital contributions from victims who courageously shared their stories and experiences with the scheme; legal professionals and government organisations who participated in interviews and consultations and made written submissions; and other stakeholders who lent their time and expertise.


The scope of the review was to consider how the scheme is currently applied, its impact on court sentencing practices, and whether it creates any inconsistencies or constrains the sentencing process.


Through consultation, data and case law analysis and consideration of the research evidence, the Council learnt that the SVO scheme and schemes like it in other States and Territories fulfil an important function in the sentencing process.


“They formally recognise the harm caused by serious forms of offending by requiring a significant proportion of the sentence to be served in custody prior to parole eligibility. When an SVO declaration is made, we were told by victims and victim support organisations that it greatly contributes to victims’ satisfaction with the sentencing outcome, thereby contributing to victim and public confidence in sentencing.”


However, it also became clear that the current SVO scheme is not fully meeting its intended objectives and as a result the Council recommended reform.


“We found strong evidence that the scheme is constraining the sentencing process and is too restrictive on judicial discretion. The scheme was referred to, by those working with it on a regular basis, as arbitrary and blunt, as distorting sentencing practices, adding unnecessary complexity to sentencing, and as severely curtailing judges’ discretion.”


In addition, the Council also considered the importance of post-release supervision on parole and found that there were relatively short periods of time some offenders were subject to parole after serving their non-parole periods. It considered the evidence on the importance of parole for community safety and said:


“It is in the interest of community safety for serious offenders who have spent a significant amount of time in prison to be supervised in the community upon their release and to serve a longer, rather than shorter period under supervision.”




The report proposes a wholly presumptive model rather than the current mandatory and discretionary application. This would require courts to make a declaration except where it would not be in the interests of justice to do so. The proposed reforms would allow judges to consider individual circumstances to set parole eligibility within a range of 50-80% of a sentence.


Further key recommendations contained in the report include:


  • creation of a new, separate schedule of offences that would apply to the scheme
  • the new schedule include offences such as child exploitation material, choking, suffocation or strangulation in a domestic setting, and female genital mutilation
  • other, less serious offences be removed from the new scheme
  • keeping serious drug offences sentenced to 10 years and more in the scheme to recognise the serious harm these offences cause to the community. This threshold is higher than the five-year threshold for offences involving sexual violence and non-sexual violence to recognise differences in the risk these offenders pose to the community.
  • changing the name to the ‘serious offences scheme’ to better reflect that not all serious offences included in the scheme are violent, for instance, serious drug offences.


In total 26 recommendations were made to the Queensland Government as part of the Council’s report.


Dan Rogers, Legal Director at Robertson O’Gorman Solicitors is a member of QSAC and project sponsor in relation to this project.