Updated August 2019
If you plead, or are found, guilty of an offence you will be sentenced. This means a punishment will be ordered by the magistrate. In general for criminal offences your punishment could range between no conviction being recorded and a jail sentence. Even if you have a criminal record, a jail sentence for an activist offence is very uncommon.
The sentence you receive will vary depending on the offence, the circumstances, your record, how you present in court, and what you say to the magistrate. Most first time activist offences like trespass or contravening police direction result in a fine or good behaviour bond, and no conviction being recorded.
A lot of activists have concerns about what being charged with a criminal offence can mean for their future employment and travel.
Will I have a criminal record?
If a conviction is recorded it means you will have a criminal record. If the magistrate orders that no conviction should be recorded, the offence will still appear on your criminal history, but you will not have a criminal record.
Criminal history might be relevant in applying for jobs or visas, and you may need to declare that you have been found guilty of a criminal offence.
It should be noted, that because most activist offences are non-violent and minor, having them on your record is unlikely to prevent you from gaining employment or a visa.
If you have a charge, but no conviction recorded:
You can say you don't have any convictions. However, if you're answering questions about whether you have any criminal history/criminal record, make sure you fully understand the question before you answer it.
You could still be asked questions about whether you have ever been charged with breaking the law, or whether you have been found guilty, pleaded guilty or been convicted. These questions are different from asking if you have a conviction recorded.
For some types of jobs/applications (e.g. Blue Card), even if you don't have a conviction recorded you still have to tell the person asking about being found guilty/pleading guilty in a court.
If you have particular questions about your history and what it means for you, it is a good idea to get legal advice.
Criminal records don’t last forever. If you were convicted of an offence a long time ago, you may no longer have a record. Check out more info here.
What are the impacts of a criminal record?
It depends on your circumstances, but often the impacts of a criminal record are over-stated. Whilst some employment applications may require you to disclose your interactions with the justice system, many employers tend to be more concerned about issues relating to dishonesty or violence. That said, it is important you make a decision for yourself, and some government departments or employers may not look kindly upon civil disobedience activities.
Will I still be able to travel overseas?
Most likely, yes, if you have been charged with minor offences. The examples of people who have able to travel even though they have a criminal record includes peace activists who have been charged with trespass under Commonwealth laws and other offences at joint US-Australian military exercises, and were granted entry to the United States. These activists chose to disclose their criminal record. Other activists have travelled without incident throughout Asia, Europe and the United States, some disclosing their records, others were not required to.
Some countries, including Australia, require you to disclose any past arrests or convictions on visa applications. Laws vary from country to country and are changing rapidly in the current international climate.
Will I still be able to get a BLUE CARD/ working with children’s check?
Working with children checks are a pre-requisite for a range of professions, such as childcare teachers. Some offences will automatically disqualify you from obtaining a working with children check, such as sexual assault and sexual offences against children. The kinds of offences that may arise in the context of a protest (such as minor property damage, trespass) will not automatically disqualify you. However, they are likely to be taken into account as part of a broader risk assessment. A range of activists who have been charged with minor civil disobedience offences have had no issue getting working with children checks. At the time of writing we are not aware of people with minor civil disobedience offences being refused working with children’s permits.
REMEMBER - it is up to you whether or not you choose to participate in civil disobedience activities.
The risks of interaction with the police and justice system are often over-stated, particularly in relation to risk to working with children, visas and travel, however it is your personal decision, and you need to feel comfortable with it.
For more information check out this handy guide, prepared by our friends a CounterAct.
The Magistrate can order you to pay a fine by a certain date. You can pay the court directly or contact the State Penalties Enforcement Registry (SPER). If you refuse to pay the fine, enforcement actions can apply.
If you can’t pay the fine at once because you don’t have much money, you can arrange a payment plan with SPER, or if you are on Centrelink payments, arrange direct debit from your Centrelink payment. If you really can’t spare any money, you can arrange to do Community Service through the Department of Corrections.
Penalty without conviction
If you are convicted of a less serious offence, the court might decide not to record a conviction. This means that the court has found that you committed the offence, but due to the non-serious nature of the offence and your good record, they have decided that it would not be fair to record a criminal conviction against your name. For the most part, activists have not had convictions recorded.
Good behaviour bond
The magistrate can order you be placed on a good behaviour bond for a period of time.
This is essentially a written promise that you will stay out of trouble for a period of time. If you get into trouble during that time, you may have to pay the bond amount to the court and be re-sentenced for the original offence. The magistrate may take into consideration that you were on a good behaviour bond at the time of committing another offence.
If you get probation you have to stay out of trouble for a set period of time. You will have to report to a probation officer at a community corrections office usually within 48 hours of sentencing, and from then on at regular times.
You will also have to meet any other conditions on your probation order, like going to counselling and paying restitution. You can be charged with breach of probation if you do not attend regularly and complete the conditions of probation. This means you will have to go back to court and be re-sentenced on the original charge.
Restitution (sometimes called victim compensation) is money you have to pay to a victim for damage you caused as a result of unlawful activity. This kind of restitution is sought during a criminal proceeding by police on behalf of the victim, as opposed to a civil claim lodged directly by a company.
These types of orders are increasingly being sought by police against activists who cause commercial operations to stop or incur expenses. There have been occasions where magistrates have imposed large restitution amounts, however, these have been challenged fairly successfully. Seek legal advice.
Offender levy: applicable to any sentencing
The offender levy is basically a non-negotiable fee payable by every adult who is sentenced in a Queensland court. The current fee is $125.30 for matters in the Magistrates Court. This cannot be appealed against and may be collected by the State Penalties and Enforcement Registry (SPER) if it is not paid. If you are found guilty, you will be charged this fee along with any other sentence or fine, whether or not a conviction has been recorded.
This information relates to criminal charges that people joining protest actions commonly face, and does not include information about potential liability for civil matters.