A post-sentence program focusing on the rehabilitation and treatment of offenders with a drug and/or alcohol dependency.
The purpose of Drug Court is to impose and administer an order called a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Order (DATO).
A DATO consists of two parts:
- custodial: sentence of imprisonment – not exceeding two years – to be served in the community to allow the participant to receive drug and / or alcohol treatment.
- treatment and supervision: aims to address the participant's drug and / or alcohol dependency.
The supervision of the participant is the responsibility of a Drug Court Magistrate. Support from case managers, clinical advisors, alcohol and drug counsellors, the police and Victoria Legal Aid is central in assisting participants achieve treatment and recovery goals.
- Participants on a DATO are required to:
- attend and participate in regular appointments with the Drug Court
- routinely submit to supervised drug and / or alcohol testing
- attend Drug Court weekly
- engage in drug and or alcohol, medical, psychiatric or psychological assessment and treatment
- attend educational, vocational, employment or other programs
- comply with conditions of the DATO, including residential and curfew conditions.
Rewards and sanctions are used to encourage positive behaviour and address any non-compliance.
Any non-compliance or reoffending may lead to the cancellation of a DATO.
A referral into Drug Court can be complex. You should seek legal advice. The steps below outline the most common method of referral into the Drug Court. It does not cover all scenarios.
STEP 1: Confirm availability
The usual place of residence of the accused (if they have one) must be within the gazetted catchment area of a Drug Court. If an accused is homeless/does not have an ordinary place of residence they may apply to access Drug Court. A decision will be made by a magistrate in relation to eligibility and suitability based on a wide range of factors including available accommodation options and an accused’s capacity/ability to access Drug Court premises.
STEP 2: Check eligibility
The accused person must:
- be dependent on drugs and / or alcohol that contributed to their offending
- be facing an immediate term of imprisonment not exceeding two years
- be facing charges that are not sexual offences or involve the infliction of actual bodily harm unless minor in nature
- not be subject to a parole order or sentencing order of the County or Supreme Court.
- plead guilty to the offence(s)
STEP 3 - Have a summary case conference
Before the referral process can begin, a summary case conference should take place with the police. A referral cannot proceed unless the accused person pleads guilty to the offence(s). Any disputes about the charge(s) must be resolved with the police first.
See the pleading guilty or not guilty page for more information.
STEP 4 - Book a screening hearing
Contact the relevant Drug Court registry and book a screening hearing. At this hearing, a Drug Court Magistrate will determine the suitability of the offender.
The timing of the booking is dependent on when agreement about the charge(s) is reached with the police. This can occur at the mention or summary hearing.
A screening hearing should be booked before an application for adjournment and referral into Drug Court is made.
A Drug Court registrar will also supply a Request to access the Drug Court form when a screening hearing is booked. The form should be completed and returned within two business days. The accused person’s criminal history and any relevant professional reports should also be included.
STEP 5 – Attend the screening hearing
The offender must attend a screening hearing so the Drug Court Magistrate can determine their eligibility. Attendance can be in person or via video link.
If eligible, two assessments will be ordered; a clinical needs assessment by a Drug Court clinical advisor and an assessment of suitability by a Community Corrections case manager.
The offender and/or their lawyer will also be told of the date for a sentencing hearing. This will generally occur four weeks after the screening hearing. This allows time for the ordered assessments to take place.
If the offender is not eligible, the Drug Court Magistrate will either hand down a sentence or refer the matter to the mainstream court.
STEP 6 – Attend the sentencing hearing
The offender must attend the sentencing hearing so the Drug Court Magistrate can determine suitability. The assessment reports are considered as part of the magistrates’ decision to impose a DATO. If suitable, the offender will become a participant of the Drug Court and must follow the requirements of a DATO.
If the offender is not suitable, the Drug Court Magistrate will either hand down a sentence or refer the matter to the mainstream court.
Drug Court is available at the Melbourne and Dandenong, Shepparton and Ballarat Magistrates’ Courts only. To contact a Drug Court, visit the relevant court contact us page.
- Confirm the availability of the Drug Court
- Check the eligibility requirements of the Drug Court
Resolve the charges by having a summary case conference with the police.
A referral into Drug Court cannot be made unless the accused person pleads guilty to their offence.
Book a screening hearing at the relevant Drug Court registry and complete the 'Request to access the Drug Court’ form.
The form should be returned to the Magistrates’ Court within two business days.
The offender must attend the screening hearing. The magistrate will determine if they meet the eligibility requirements.
If eligible, two assessments must be completed.
- The accused person must attend a sentencing hearing where the magistrate will determine if the accused person is suitable for a DATO.
This is not a full list of legislation associated with this topic. See the Victorian Government's legislation website for more information.