Criminal Law

By Satomi Hamon


Canberra’s new Drug and Alcohol Court

In September 2019, the ACT Government moved to create a new Drug and Alcohol Court (DAC) and introduced legislation that will allow it to issue substance dependent offenders with a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Order (DATO).

This new sentencing option has been established to reduce recidivism where an offender’s substance addiction has formed a large part of the reason for their offending. The DAC provides a further option and pathway where rehabilitation is a real alternative to gaol time for more serious offences.

What is the object of a DATO?

The objects of making a treatment order in relation to an offender is to:

  • facilitate the rehabilitation of the offender by providing a judicially supervised, therapeutically oriented and integrated treatment regime; and
  • reduce the offender’s dependency on alcohol or a controlled drug; and
  • reduce the health risks associated with the offender’s dependency on alcohol or controlled drugs; and
  • assist with the offender’s integration into the community; and
  • promote community safety by reducing the level of criminal activity caused by alcohol or controlled drug dependence in offenders.

Which offenders qualify for a DATO?

To qualify for a DATO, offenders must fit certain criteria including that they plead guilty to eligible offences and be sentenced to between one and four years in gaol. Eligible offences do not include serious violent offences or sexual offences.

A suitability assessment is also conducted, looking at criteria including whether the offender’s dependence on drugs or alcohol substantially contributed to their crimes.

What happens when an offender is found to be suitable for a DATO?

When offenders are found to be suitable, the presiding judge of the DAC can suspend the custodial part of a sentence in favour of a DATO.

The order will cover at least the first year of a sentence. If completed successfully, it will be replaced by a good behaviour order for the remainder of the sentence.

Programs and treatment can include:

  • Withdrawal management
  • Pharmacological treatments
  • Relapse prevention
  • Group or individual therapy
  • Assistance restoring relationships
  • Support finding and maintaining employment, and
  • Referrals to obtain income support.

What are the consequences of not complying with a DATO?

If participants do not follow the treatment plan, or want to stop treatment early, they will be required to complete the rest of their sentence in gaol.