Key Practice Areas
No Actual Imprisonment for Woman Who Pled Guilty to Social Security Offences
The Situation: We appeared in the Magistrates Court representing a 34 year old woman pleading guilty to four social security offences that were committed at various times, from 2002 to 2012, involving a sum in excess of $55,000. The circumstances were quite unusual. Well-established law suggests that the court was bound to impose a sentence of actual imprisonment in cases like this. The challenge was for us to persuade the court that our client’s case was out of the ordinary and that the usual pattern of sentencing should not apply. “Sharon” (we will call her, not her real name) was receiving a Centrelink parenting payment at the single parent rate, when she was only entitled to a benefit at the lower partnered rate. There was no doubt that she had done the wrong thing – which is why she was pleading guilty. But it was also relevant that Sharon was the victim of severe domestic violence; her partner was physically violent to her. He also controlled their finances and did not contribute to the care of the children. The magistrate accepted our arguments that the money our client received was not in addition to any other income, and that she was financially in a worse position than if she was a single parent. These facts distinguished her case from many other cases. The court also took into account the potential impact of a sentence of imprisonment on Sharon’s children. We presented the court with references to cases from the Queensland Court of Appeal that challenged the validity of the assumption that Sharon should serve time in prison. The magistrate accepted that, in this case, our client’s circumstances were exceptional.
The Result: Sharon received a sentence that did not involve any time in actual custody. The court did impose a sentence of imprisonment, but with an order for immediate release subject to a lengthy period of good behaviour. A good and fair result for our client.
As every case is different, the cases reported here cannot be taken as an indication of a similar outcome being likely in your case, and these reports are not to be taken as legal advice about your particular situation.