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What are "penalty units"?

Contributed by Marcus Hassall, Blackburn Chambers and current to March 2022.

For all criminal offences in the ACT, the Act creating the offence sets out a maximum penalty which may be imposed if a person is found guilty of the offence. Sometimes the maximum penalty is expressed as a period of imprisonment; sometimes it is expressed as a particular number of "penalty units"; and often both options are given - e.g. "2 000 penalty units, imprisonment for 20 years or both".

A penalty unit is simply the base unit used to calculate the maximum fine which may be imposed for commission of a particular offence. The more serious the offence, the greater the number of penalty units.

As of 2 March 2018, the value of a penalty unit for an offence against ACT law is $150 for an individual and $750 for a corporation (s 133 Legislation Act 2001). Thus, for an offence punishable by a maximum of 2000 penalty units, the maximum fine for an individual will be $300,000 and for a corporation will be $1.5 million.

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