Assessment and Referral Court (ARC)
A court list for accused persons who have a mental illness and/or a cognitive impairment. A cognitive impairment can include an intellectual disability, acquired brain injury or autism spectrum disorder.
The Assessment and Referral Court (ARC) aims to help people address underlying factors that contribute to their offending behaviours. ARC is a therapeutic court that aims to improve the health and wellbeing of the person
A referral must be made before a matter can be heard in the ARC. An assessment by an ARC case manager is also required to ensure the accused person meets the eligibility criteria. The Court decides if a person’s case is suitable for ARC.
ARC is a pre-sentence court. At the end of an episode in ARC, the Court’s sentencing options are generally the same as matters heard in the mainstream court. This includes the power to send someone to prison. See the criminal matters section for more information.
The steps below outline how a referral into the ARC can be made. It does not cover all scenarios.
STEP 1: Confirm availability
The accused person must be charged with a criminal offence within the catchment area – known as proper venue - of an ARC. To participate in ARC an accused person must usually be on bail. A referral may be made to ARC while a person is in custody, if it is likely that they will be released into the community.
ARC is available at the:
- Bendigo Magistrates' Court
- Frankston Magistrates’ Court
- Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court
- Melbourne Magistrates’ Court
- Moorabbin Magistrates’ Court.
The Court Integrated Services Program (CISP) provides support state-wide and may be able to provide support at Magistrates’ Courts that don’t have an ARC. Visit the bail support (CISP) page for more information.
STEP 2: Check eligibility
DIAGNOSTIC CRITERIA: The accused person must be diagnosed with one or more of the following:
- a mental illness
- an intellectual disability
- an acquired brain injury
- an autism spectrum disorder
- a neurological impairment, including but not limited to dementia.
FUNCTIONAL CRITERIA: The diagnosis listed above must cause a substantially reduced capacity in at least one of the areas of:
- social interaction
NEEDS/BENEFIT CRITERIA: The accused person must benefit from receiving coordinated services in accordance with an individual support plan. Services may include:
- psychological services
- welfare services
- health services
- mental health services
- disability services
- drug treatment services or alcohol treatment services
- housing and support services
- other services that aim to reduce the risk of offending or re-offending.
For more information about eligibility, refer to Section 4T of the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989.
STEP 3: Seek a referral
A referral into the ARC can be made by anyone, including the accused person, their family, community service organisations, magistrates, Victoria Police, lawyers or the CISP.
A referral and adjournment into ARC should be made at the earliest opportunity. This can occur at a bail hearing or mention hearing. Contested bail hearings are heard in mainstream court. The accused person must agree to the matter being heard in the ARC as participation is voluntary.
The ARC also requires:
- medical/diagnostic information about the accused person’s condition(s)
- information about any prior convictions or remand summaries
- information about current/past support services.
STEP 4: Attend an ARC assessment
The accused person must be assessed for eligibility by an ARC case manager. The Magistrates’ Court will organise the assessment and submit a report to the ARC magistrate who will make a decision regarding eligibility.
If the accused person is accepted a formal plea must be entered before approval of an individual support plan (goals to be worked on in the ARC episode).
If a plea of:
- guilty is entered, sentencing will occur within the ARC at the end of the individual support plan
- not guilty is entered, the matter will be transferred to the mainstream court for a contested hearing.
What happens next?
The accused person must appear before the ARC magistrate on a regular basis to discuss their progress. If compliance with the individual support plan isn’t met, the magistrate can transfer the matter to the mainstream court for sentencing.
Take a look at the MCV ARC flyer, which provides a snapshot of what ARC is, who is eligible what is involved.
- Confirm if the criminal offence was committed within an ARC catchment area.
- Check the eligibility criteria for the ARC.
Seek a referral into the ARC.
Complete a PDF referral form for the relevant court.
- Provide the ARC with diagnostic evidence.
- Attend an assessment with an ARC clinician.
- Go to court for the ARC hearing.
This is not a full list of legislation associated with this topic. See the Victorian Government's legislation website for more information.
In the ARC List, the magistrate, the prosecution, support staff, the accused person and their family sit at the same table.
The participants individual support plan will be reviewed, and their progress explained to them in plain English.