Commonwealth criminal offences (or Federal Offences) are governed by Commonwealth legislation which is enacted by Federal Parliament in Canberra. The Commonwealth Criminal Code governs the principle of criminal liability. These laws apply to all states and territories in Australia, as distinct from state offences, which generally cannot be committed outside the state that imposed them.
Commonwealth criminal offences form an important part of the justice system because they allow for offenders to be prosecuted for crimes that are committed across state borders, or offences committed overseas. For this reason, Commonwealth offences prosecuted in the higher courts can involve widespread, complicated and sophisticated criminal activity.
List of Commonwealth Indictable Offences
The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions prosecutes on the following Commonwealth crimes:
- Commercial crimes
- Money laundering
- Serious drug offences, including importation and precursors
- People smuggling
- Human trafficking and slavery
- Child exploitation
- Counter terrorism
- Cyber crimes (hacking, online fraud, identity theft, etc)
- Cyber-bullying and threats
- Illegal acts impacting the environment
- Crimes relating to safety, in areas such as workplace health and safety, consumer product safety and civil aviation
- General crimes against the Commonwealth (corruption, perjury, failure to vote, etc.)
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How are Commonwealth criminal offences investigated and prosecuted?
Commonwealth offences are predominantly investigated by the Australian Federal Police and prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, however sometimes Victoria Police can investigate and prosecute low level Commonwealth offences. Terrorism offences, drug importation, financial crime and sexual offences involving the transmission of illegal material are some offences that are ordinarily prosecuted under the Commonwealth legislation.
Sentencing of Commonwealth criminal offences
A key feature of Commonwealth offences is that the sentencing Court must impose a sentence under the Commonwealth Crimes Act. The most important distinction is that the Court has the power to impose a wholly suspended sentence of imprisonment or a partially suspended sentence of imprisonment for any term of up to three years duration, when dealing with Commonwealth offences. The Court does this by imposing a term of imprisonment, and releasing a person onto a ‘Recognisance Release Order’, which is an enforceable undertaking to be of good behaviour. This type of sentence is no longer available for Victorian offences.
Case Study - Commonwealth Offences
Our solicitors have a thorough understanding of Commonwealth offences and how they are litigated in the Victorian courts.
Ms Jasmine Pisasale of our office appeared before the County Court of Victoria on 3 July 2019 in relation to a Commonwealth matter involving $90,000.00 in welfare benefits that had been fraudulently obtained. Our client had an impoverished background in Africa, and had migrated to Australia as a refugee. She had obtained the benefits over a number of years in a misguided attempt to support her family, and had commenced making repayments to the government. Our client was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment to be released immediately onto a Recognisance Release Order.