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Commonwealth Criminal Code: Guide for practitioners 

Dear practitioners

It is with great pleasure that the Attorney-General’s Department has been able to work in association with the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration to produce these guidelines for practitioners on the Commonwealth Criminal Code. The Criminal Code has been progressively applied to Commonwealth offences since 1997 and, subject to a short delay with a handful of offences, applied to all Commonwealth offences from 15 December 2001.

Chapter 2 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code was enacted in 1995. It closely follows the Model Criminal Code which was developed by State, Territory and Commonwealth criminal law advisers following nationwide consultation. Chapter 2 is concerned with the general principles of criminal responsibility - so it is relevant to all offences. The application of Chapter 2 to all offences meant that all existing Commonwealth offences had to be reviewed, and where necessary, modified before Chapter 2 could commence. That process is now complete.  Practitioners will note that Chapter 2 is by  no means alien as its concepts are based on the common law and in some cases provisions of the old State Criminal Codes.

However, while the concepts in the Commonwealth Criminal Code will often be familiar, I recognise using a criminal code will be new for many of you and that it is very important to carefully document how it relates to the existing law and is expected to operate. It is of course for the courts to deliberate on how the Criminal Code will actually operate. The following pages, are just guidelines, they are designed to assist practitioners, not replace the normal processes for interpreting the law. Officers in my Department, and I trust many practitioners and commentators will be monitoring decisions on the Criminal Code with great interest over the coming years.

It is my hope the new Criminal Code will bring about greater certainty, and in the end, consistency throughout Australia. It is based on the model for national consistency - the Model Criminal Code - which was created for   that purpose by the nation’s Attorneys-General.

Robert Cornall Secretary
Attorney-General’s Department March, 2002