NSW Sentencing Council

​Sentencing Hearing

On this page we explain who's who and what happens in a court at sentencing. Select a topic to learn more below:

About courts

See the Structure of the criminal justice system in NSW.

When is an offender sentenced?

An offender is sentenced after he or she:

  • has pleaded guilty to an offence or
  • has been found guilty of the offence after a summary hearing in the Local Court or
  • has been found guilty of the offence following a trial by judge alone or trial by jury in the District or Supreme Court.

What happens at a sentencing hearing?

Sentencing often takes place on a separate day to the trial or summary hearing and is conducted before the judge or magistrate.

A victim, like all members of the community, has the right to be present at the sentencing hearing.

At the sentencing hearing, the defence has the opportunity to put forward evidence and arguments about what the sentence should be.

The prosecution assists the court by providing information about applicable law and relevant sentencing statistics.

Both the defence and the prosecution can make oral and written arguments, and both sides can call evidence in support of their arguments.

The prosecution may challenge evidence put forward by the defence at the sentencing hearing, and may challenge or cross-examine defence witnesses. The prosecution will normally provide information concerning any prior criminal convictions of the offender.

Evidence presented by the defence may include:

  • evidence of the offender's previous good character, usually in the form of statements from family members,
  • friends, employers or other associates;
  • documents such as psychiatric or psychological reports.


The court often obtains a pre-sentence report from the Community and Offender Services, which will detail the offender's background and any appropriate or available sentencing options. In the case of a juvenile offender, Juvenile Justice must provide a background report detailing this information.

An offender can only be sentenced for the charge of which he or she has been found guilty. The judge or magistrate can only take into account factors that are relevant to that charge.

The judge or magistrate will often make sentencing remarks to clarify his/her decision.