Last updated 14 January 2019


A crime is conduct that breaches the criminal law. A person committed the offence of stealing, for example, when they take money from a bag without permission (s 398 Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) (Criminal Code)). Police investigate the crime and may lay charges against the suspect. Once charged, the police and/or the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions then prosecute the person in court.

A person who is found guilty or pleads guilty to a criminal offence is punished. The level of punishment is decided by the presiding judge or magistrate, within the legislative bounds set by the state. Punishment includes penalties such as:

  • imprisonment
  • probation
  • community service

Private criminal prosecutions

A private citizen may commence criminal proceedings against an alleged offender. This is an extremely rare procedure.

Offences by children

In 2018, the Queensland Government introduced legislation enabling 17-year-olds to be dealt with under the youth justice system. Prior to this, 17-year-olds were treated as adults for the purposes of the criminal law.

Offenders aged under 18 years are dealt with pursuant to the Youth Justice Act 1992 (Qld). For further discussion about criminal law and children see the chapter on Children and the Criminal Law.

Civil wrongs

By contrast, when a person commits a civil wrong, the police are not usually involved in the investigation of the conduct, and the person is not prosecuted by the state.

The person who alleges that the wrongful conduct has occurred institutes private proceedings against the wrongdoer in court. Generally, the remedy for a civil wrong is a court order requiring the wrongdoer to pay damages (money), although other remedies may be available.