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Right to protection from retrospective criminal laws

Section 27 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (the Charter) says that you cannot be found guilty of a criminal offence if your action was not considered a crime when you committed it. If you are found guilty of a criminal offence and given a penalty, the penalty must not be greater than it would have been when you committed the offence. The Charter applies to public authorities in Victoria, such as state and local government departments and agencies, and people delivering services on behalf of the government.

How does the law protect me?

Under this right, you cannot be found guilty of a criminal offence if your action was not considered an offence when you committed it. 

If you are found guilty of a criminal offence, your penalty cannot be greater than it would have been at the time you committed the offence.

If the penalty for an offence is reduced after you committed it but before you are sentenced, you are eligible for the reduced penalty.

Can this right be limited in any way?

As well as being covered by the Charter, the right to protection from retrospective criminal laws is also covered by international law. It is considered a non-derogable right – that means the government cannot limit or suspend this right under any circumstances. 

However, section 27(4) of the Charter contains an exception to the protection against retrospective criminal laws – this exception means that you can be prosecuted for a criminal offence under international law (such as genocide or a crime against humanity), even if the your actions may not have been a criminal offence under Australian domestic law at the time you committed them.

How we can help

We can give you information about Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities but the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission does not handle complaints related to the Charter.

If you would like more information about the Charter and your rights contact us.

For information about the legal history of this right, case law or Australia’s human rights framework, you can read more in our Policy and Legal sections of this website.

How to make a human rights complaint

If you think your human rights have been breached, you should contact the Victorian Ombudsman.

If you want to make a complaint about police conduct, contact the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.

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Address
Level 3, 204 Lygon Street Carlton Victoria 3053

General enquiries
enquiries@veohrc.vic.gov.au

Reception
1300 891 848

Enquiry line
1300 292 153 or (03) 9032 3583

Interpreters
1300 152 494

NRS Voice Relay
1300 555 727 then use 1300 292 153

Media enquiries
0447 526 642

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as First Australians and recognises their culture, history, diversity and deep connection to the land.

We acknowledge that the Commission is on the land of the Kulin Nation and pay our respects to Elders past and present.