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The Verdins Principles

The Verdins Principles

By Rose George

Justice Practice & Procedure Young Lawyers 


Courts are required to determine what the most appropriate sentencing orders are based on the circumstances of an individual. This often involves balancing multiple factors such general and specific deterrence,denunciation and punishment, as well as considerations specific to an accused, such as their moral culpability and the risks that a term of imprisonment poses.

While mental impairment as a relevant sentencing consideration is broadly accepted under Victorian common law and statute, not all offenders successfully reach an acquittal on the basis of mental incapacity. This is due to the high threshold of the defence under the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Fitness to be Tried) Act 1997 (Vic) (CMIA).

Prior to the Verdins1 judgement in 2007, offenders facing mental illnesses who fell short of the mental impairment defence under statute still had their mental illness considered by sentencing judges in circumstances where they could prove that a “psychiatric illness not amounting to insanity”2 was suffered.

The case

In 2007 the Victorian Court of Appeal heard three cases in which the issue of mental health was raised as a mitigating factor relevant to the sentence the Court was to impose. The offenders entered pleas of guilty and sought that, in determining their sentence, the Court take into account the mental health issues they faced either at the time of the offending or at the time of the sentence.

In the judgement, the Court held that, “impaired mental functioning, whether temporary or permanent”3 may be relevant to sentencing in at least six ways. These are commonly referred to as the Verdins Principles and dictate the following ways that a mental condition of offenders can be taken into account at sentencing:

·       Principle 1: The moral culpability of the offending conduct is reduced

·       Principle 2: The kind of sentence imposed and the conditions in which it should be served have a bearing

·       Principle 3: General deterrence is moderated or eliminated

·       Principle 4: Specific deterrence is moderated or eliminated

·       Principle 5: The weight of a sentence on the offender in comparison to a person in normal health

·       Principle 6: The significant adverse effect on the offender’s mental health as a result of imprisonment

Personality disorders

While personality disorders are not grounds for mitigation of sentence in accordance with Verdins, the recent case of Brown v The Queen [2020] VSCA 212 provides a new development on this issue.

In the matter of Brown, it was ultimately accepted that a personality disorder can in fact constitute an impairment of mental functioning and have “strong causal links to the offending”4, which may result in a reduced sentence.

Other considerations

In addition to the mental health factors, the Court will still balance the various other sentencing principles when determining sentences to ensure it is a balanced and appropriate outcome.


As a result of the application of Verdins, it may ultimately be determined by a Court that imprisonment is an inappropriate disposition in circumstances where the offender has ongoing mental health issues that are likely to be aggravated by a custodial sentence.

While there is no automatic mitigation of sentence by application of Verdins simply because an offender suffers/has suffered a mental illness, assessment of the relationship between the condition, the offence, and other relevant matters may ultimately result in a mitigation of sentence.

Rose George is an admitted Australian lawyer and is associate to his Honour Judge Doyle of the County Court of Victoria.

  1. R v Verdins & Ors [2007] VSCA 102
  2. Ibid, paragraph 1
  3. Ibid, paragraph 32
  4. Brown v The Queen [2020]

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