Last updated 29 August 2016
Police diversion program
This diversion program relates to persons arrested for or being questioned in relation to a minor drug offence involving cannabis (i.e. possession of a small amount of cannabis, not more than 50 grams, or an associated thing such as a bong). The diversion program offers people apprehended for minor drug offences access to professional health intervention, education about the wide-ranging effects and consequences of cannabis use, and assistance to stop using cannabis as an alternative to proceeding through the usual court processes. It is offered at all police stations in Queensland.
The diversion program is provided for in s 379 of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld) (PPR Act). To be eligible, a person is required to admit to the offence in an electronically recorded interview. Children may also be eligible to attend the diversion program at the discretion of the police officer concerned. People with certain criminal history (e.g. convictions for offences of violence or those who have served prior imprisonment for drug offences) and those who have previously been offered the opportunity to attend and complete a police diversion program will not be eligible.
The person being questioned in relation to the offence has a right to speak with a lawyer, friend or relative before being questioned. At this time it is important for the legal representative to advise the person of the option of the diversionary program. Police officers are not entitled to discuss the diversion program until the person has made admissions, otherwise this may be seen to be an inducement to participate in the record of interview. Individuals who are facing minor cannabis-related offences, who are not seeking assistance from a lawyer and who admit their guilt can ask police about the use of this diversionary program.
Persons offered an opportunity to attend the program as an alternative to being charged with a drug offence and attending court are required to attend an assessment and education session of about two hours duration. If the person attends, they will not be charged with a criminal offence and will not have to attend court. If the person fails to attend, the police will be advised and will then determine if the person should be charged with an offence (i.e. contravening a direction or requirement of a police officer) under s 791 of the PPR Act. This offence has a maximum penalty of $4712.
A court hearing a matter where an eligible offender (under the PPR Act) is pleading guilty to a minor drug offence can also offer the defendant an opportunity to attend a drug diversion assessment program. The charge can then be adjourned and a report later provided to the court about the person’s attendance. If the court is satisfied that the defendant attended and completed the assessment program, the charge will be struck out (s 122A Drugs Misuse Act 1986 (Qld)).
Court diversion program for minor drug offences
The Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) also provides a court diversion program for eligible drug offenders. Under pt 3, div 1 of this Act, consenting offenders who meet the prescribed eligibility requirements can be discharged absolutely on condition that they attend a drug assessment and education session. The program is available in all magistrates courts and is wider in its application than the police diversion program. Those who have already used up an opportunity for the police diversion program or who have committed minor possession offences involving harder drugs may be eligible.
Where the court has a court diversion officer, this person identifies and talks with eligible offenders about diversion. The matter is then heard in court, and if the magistrate deems the person suitable, they are placed on a recognizance order with a condition of attending a drug assessment and education session. Ordinarily, the order will involve a period of some months and a bond. Once the offender attends the assessment and education session (similar to the police diversion program above) with a nominated health service provider, the order ends and no conviction is recorded.
If the offender does not attend the required session in the allowed time, the recognizance order will have been breached, and the offender will be returned to court to be sentenced for the original offence, and their bond will be forfeited.
Diversion under this program may be offered twice.
The Q-MERIT program
People charged with some drug offences who appear in some regional magistrates courts may be eligible to participate in another diversionary program.
At present, the magistrates courts at Redcliffe and Maroochydore offer the Q-MERIT program (Queensland Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment). Eligible adult offenders who have drug-use problems and who are appropriate for release on bail can be placed on a diversion program as part of their bail conditions. An assessment will be undertaken, and a supervised individual treatment plan will be drawn up. After the program is completed, a report will be provided to the court.
The Queensland Courts referral
The Queensland Court Referral (QCR) is a process that engages with non-government organisations to address the causes of offending behaviour by assisting defendants with drug dependency (also alcohol dependency, mental health issues, cognitive impairment and homelessness), who come into contact with the criminal justice system. The QCR provides short-term assistance for a maximum period of three months through referral to treatment or community support. To be eligible for referral, a defendant must be on bail or eligible for bail.
The process for accessing this service commences at the Roma Street arrest courts and includes the following steps:
- The QCR facilitator will complete an initial screening and make a recommendation to the magistrate about the person’s suitability to engage in treatment.
- If the magistrate considers the defendant suitable for bail, an adjournment of 14 to 21 days may be granted for an assessment of services (rehabilitation or other intervention) and the defendant’s suitability for referral.
- The magistrate will then consider the defendant’s suitability in making a determination on bail and adjourn the matter for up to three months to give the defendant an opportunity to engage in treatment.
- At the end of the adjournment period (not exceeding a total of three months) a report will be provided to the court, and the magistrate may deal with the matter according to law.
Drug and Alcohol Assessment
Persons over 18, who are charged with identified offences (such as grievous bodily harm, wounding, common assault, assault occasioning bodily harm, serious assault or obstructing a police officer), must have as a condition of their bail that they attend a one-off drug and alcohol assessment and referral course to give them information about treatment and counselling.
The consequences of a drug conviction
A drug conviction may have wider repercussions than the penalty imposed by a court. It may affect the person’s ability to seek or maintain employment and a person’s ability to travel overseas. For discussion on the effect of criminal convictions see the chapter on Sentencing.