Commonwealth Criminal Code 1995 Offences & Charges

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Being charged with a Commonwealth criminal offence can turn your world upside down, leaving you feeling lost and alone. But with the help of Sydney’s best criminal lawyers, you can protect your rights and freedoms by fighting the charges to obtain the best possible result.

Although criminal matters are usually dealt with under state laws such as the Crime Act 1900 (NSW), the Commonwealth has the power to make laws in relation to certain criminal offences under the Commonwealth Criminal Code.

If you have been charged with an offence under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, it is likely that you matter will be prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions or the Australian Federal Police.

These bodies have significant powers and resources, hence it is important to ensure that you speak to an expert criminal lawyer with a thorough knowledge of Commonwealth criminal law.

The various criminal offences under the Criminal Code include:

Internet Offences

There are several offences under the Commonwealth Criminal Code which involve the use of the internet for improper or illegal means.

  • Child pornography offences: Though child pornography is a crime under the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), it can also constitute a Federal offence where you use a ‘carriage service’ to access, transmit, distribute, publish, promote or solicit child pornography material.
  • Making threats online: You may face penalties where you use the internet to make death threats, or threats of serious bodily harm and the other person fears that the threat will be carried out. These threats may be made via emails, websites and social media sits such as Facebook and Twitter. You may also face serious penalties for making ‘hoax threats’ – in other words, a false claim that an explosive, or a dangerous or harmful substance or thing has been or will be left somewhere.
  • Using the internet to menace, harass or cause an offence: You can be charged with a Federal offence where you use the internet in a way that a reasonable person would find menacing, harassing or offensive.

Telephone-related offences

The Commonwealth Criminal Code contains provisions in relation to telephone-related offences, for example:

  • Misuse of emergency service numbers: This refers to situations where you make a call to the police, ambulance or fire brigade and falsely claim that an emergency exists, or where the call is vexatious.
  • Making threats over the phone: This involves the making of death threats, or threats of serious bodily harm over the phone. It may also include situations where you make false claims that an explosive or harmful or dangerous thing has been or will be left somewhere.
  • Using phone calls to menace, harass or cause an offence: This refers to the making of a phone call or sending of a text message that a reasonable person would find menacing, harassing or offensive.

Post-related offences

There are various offences under the law which relate to using the postal service or mail, for example:

  • Sending or receiving child pornography through the post: Under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, you can be charged with an offence where you send, supply or obtain child pornography material through the post.
  • Sending threatening letters: There are various provisions under the Commonwealth Criminal Code that make it an offence to send a letter or postal article which contains a threat to kill or cause serious harm to another person.
  • Sending offensive material: You may be charged with an offence where you send something through the post that a reasonable person would find menacing, harassing or offensive.
  • Hoax letters: You can be charged with an offence where you use the post in a way that induces the false belief that the article contains an explosive or some kind of harmful substance or thing.

Computer offences against a Commonwealth entity

The Commonwealth Criminal Code contains sections which concern computer offences committed against government bodies. These include:

  • Using or modifying unauthorised information with the intention of committing a serious criminal offence: This involves accessing or modifying unauthorised material that is stored on a computer for the purposes of committing a serious criminal offence (an offence that is punishable by imprisonment of five years or more).
  • Producing data with the intention of committing a criminal offence: This involves the production of data (for example, computer viruses) to commit a computer-related offence.

Forgery of Commonwealth documents

The forgery of Commonwealth documents is a serious offence. Commonwealth forgery matters may involve:

  • Making a false document: This involves the making of a false document which causes a public official or electronic machine to accept it as genuine. It may also include situations where you use a false document to dishonestly obtain a benefit or influence a public official. More serious penalties apply where the document is a “Commonwealth document.”
  • Using false documents: You can also be charged with a Commonwealth offence where you intentionally use a forged document to obtain some benefit or advantage, and where you use the document to induce a public official or electronic machine to accept it as genuine.
  • Possessing machinery to create false documents: You may also be charged with an offence where you possess machinery or equipment to make false documents.

Money laundering

Money laundering essentially involves the use of money or property that has been earned illegally, or for some illegal purpose.

  • Dealing with the proceeds of crime: This involves the use or possession of money or property that has been obtained through criminal activity. The type of penalty that you will face depends on the amount of money that is involved.

People smuggling

People smuggling is a serious offence that may incur harsh penalties under Commonwealth law. It may involve things like:

  • People smuggling: This involves organising or facilitating the illegal entry of a person into Australia or some another country. You may face more serious penalties where, in the course of people smuggling, you subject a person to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, or where you assist in smuggling five or more persons.
  • Assisting with people smuggling: You may also face charges under Commonwealth law where you provide materials, support or resources to another person or organisation to assist with people smuggling.
  • Making, supplying or possessing false travel documents: Heavy penalties may apply where you make, provide or possess a fake travel or identity document, such as a passport or visa, for the purpose of unlawfully entering another country, or assisting someone else in illegally entering another country.

Theft of or receiving stolen Commonwealth property

Similar to State laws dealing with larceny and theft, Commonwealth laws exist in relation to the theft or receipt of stolen Commonwealth property.

  • Stealing Commonwealth property: This essentially involves the theft of ‘Commonwealth property.’ Commonwealth property is property that belongs to a ‘Commonwealth entity’ – such as a government body.
  • Receiving Commonwealth property: You may also be found guilty of an offence where you receive stolen Commonwealth property, or where you receive property and you know or reasonably believe that the property may have been stolen.

War crimes and crimes against humanity

Perhaps the most serious Commonwealth criminal offences are those involving war crimes or crimes against humanity. These may include:

  • Genocide: This refers to the killing, serious bodily harm or serious mental harm of one or more persons belonging to a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, with the intention of destroying that particular group in some way.
  • Crimes against humanity: This includes attacks on a person as part of a widespread attack on civilians. It may involve things like the killing, or forcible displacement of another person or group of persons.
  • War crimes: This involves causing the death or torture of one or more persons during an international war.

Frequently Asked Questions

What penalties could I face?

The type of penalty that will apply in your case depends on the type of Commonwealth criminal offence that you have been charged with, as well as the facts and circumstances of your case.

For example, when determining the appropriate penalty in a Commonwealth criminal matter, the court will look at things like the maximum penalty that could apply, the seriousness of your actions, as well as any relevant subjective features, such as your previous criminal record and whether or not there are good prospects for your rehabilitation.

The types of penalties that you face include:

Why Choose Sydney Criminal Lawyers®?

Going to court can be nerve-racking, but having a strong and compassionate legal team behind you can make the experience significantly easier to deal with.

Here are 12 reasons to choose our multi-award winning legal team:

  1. Proven Track Record of Exceptional Results

    Sydney Criminal Lawyers® consistently achieves outcomes which are in the highest percentile of the Judicial Commission’s sentencing statistics for criminal cases.

    Our legal team devises effective case-strategies and fights hard to have cases dropped entirely or charges downgraded – saving clients the time, expense and stress of a defended hearing or jury trial.

    Where cases nevertheless proceed, our lawyers have an outstanding track record of winning defended Local Court hearings, and complex jury trials in the District and Supreme Courts.

    We also consistently win appeals in the District and Supreme Courts (including the NSWCCA) after clients have received unsatisfactory results with other law firms in the lower courts.We are one of the few firms to achieve successful criminal law appeals in the High Court of Australia.

    Where our clients wish to plead guilty, we frequently achieve ‘dismissals’ and ‘non convictions’ in cases where other lawyers have advised there is no chance of doing so.

  2. Highest Level of Client Satisfaction

    We have the best and most comprehensive client review record of any law firm in Australia.

    Regular communication, accessibility and quality service are our team’s highest priorities.

    We are committed to thoroughly explaining all steps involved in the criminal law process, providing regular updates throughout the proceedings, and making ourselves accessible and responsive.

    We are passionate about providing an exceptional level of service to our clients, and we fight hard to achieve optimal results in the shortest period of time.

  3. Australia’s Most Awarded Criminal Law Firm

    We have received more awards and accolades than any other criminal law firm in Australia. Our team has been awarded “Criminal Defence Firm of the Year in Australia” in a number of prestigious and competitive awards programs for several years running.

    The awards recognise our exceptional track record of results, our outstanding client service, the high level of satisfaction we achieve, the affordability of our services and our overall excellence.

  4. Fixed Fees

    We want our clients to know exactly how much their cases will cost from the very start. That’s why we were the first criminal law firm in Australia to publish ‘fixed fees’, back in 2004.

    We offer fixed fees for most types of criminal cases and services.Our fixed fees apply to a range of Local Court cases such as drink driving, drug possession, fraud, common assault and AVOs, and also specific services such as prison visits, bail applications, appeals and defended hearings.

    Unlike many other law firms, our fixed fees are published on our website – which ensures transparency and certainty.

  5. Free First Appointment

    For those who are going to court, we offer a free first conference of up to an hour with one of our Senior Criminal Defence Lawyers.

    We also offer a free first conference to those who have received an unsatisfactory result after being represented in court by another law firm, or after representing themselves, and wish to appeal.

  6. Specialist Lawyer Guarantee

    We guarantee that only lawyers with substantial criminal defence experience will work on your case and appear for you in court.

    This ensures our clients receive the highest quality representation from an experienced, specialist criminal lawyer.

  7. All NSW Courts

    From Bombala to Broken Hill, our lawyers appear in courts throughout New South Wales – and across Australia for Commonwealth cases.

    And we offer fixed fees for most criminal and traffic law cases throughout the state.

  8. Accredited Specialists

    Our entire firm is exclusively dedicated to criminal law – which makes us true specialists.

    All of our lawyers have years of experience representing clients in criminal cases, and our principal has been certified by the Law Society of NSW as an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist since 2005.

    An ‘Accredited Specialist’ is a lawyer who has practised for at least 5 years in a particular field of law (such as criminal law), has passed a rigorous assessment process conducted by the Law Society of NSW, and has been selected by the Specialist Accreditation Committee of the Law Society as an expert in the field.

    Accredited Specialists are required to undertake more training each year than other lawyers and must be successful in having their accreditation renewed every year. Specialist Accreditation is the mark of a true specialist.

    Our firm’s specialist experience ensures you receive the best possible result, whatever your criminal law case may be.

  9. Results-Focused Law Firm

    Our team is passionate about achieving results, and unlike many other law firms, our lawyers do not have monthly financial ‘budgets’ to meet.

    The absence of budgets means our lawyers are entirely focused on achieving optimal results in the shortest space of time; whether by getting charges dropped or downgraded at an early stage or having cases ‘thrown out of court’.

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  10. Team of Lawyers Behind You

    Our clients benefit from the pool of knowledge that only an extensive team of experienced criminal defence lawyers can provide.

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    In such matters, clients reap the benefits of several lawyers devising and executing case strategies which maximise the chances of having cases dropped or downgraded at an early stage, or ‘thrown out of court’ – often saving clients a great deal of cost, time and anxiety.

  11. Familiar with Magistrates and Judges

    Each of our lawyers appears in court on a daily basis, and has done so for years. We have therefore been able to develop an understanding of, and rapport with, magistrates and judges in Sydney and indeed across the state.

    Our team’s extensive experience before the courts ensures your case is tailored to the specific nuances of individual judicial officers, maximising the likelihood of a favourable result.

  12. Convenience

    We have offices in locations across the Sydney Metropolitan Area and beyond, including:

    We offer free parking at our Sydney CBD offices, and all of our offices are close to train stations and bus terminals.

    For those who are unable to attend our offices, we offer conferences by telephone, Skye and FaceTime anywhere around the world.

    If you are going to court and wish to arrange a free first consultation, call our 24 hour hotline on (02) 9261 8881 or send us an email at

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