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Diversionary Schemes

There are a variety of schemes designed to assist drug users to break the cycle of drug abuse and crime, and to keep offences involving possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal and private use out of the court system.

Drug Assessment Panel



Drug Court


The Controlled Substance Act 1984 (SA) [ss 34 - 40A] provides a scheme of rehabilitation for suitable offenders charged with simple possession of drugs of dependence (except cannabis). The diversion scheme is restricted to drug offences and is not available for non-drug offences, even where drug use is a significant component of the offending.

The Act establishes Drug Assessment Panels overseen by the Health Commission. The police must refer allegations of simple possession of defined amounts of drugs of dependence to an assessment service [Controlled Substances Act 1984 (SA) s 36].

Referral to Drug Assessment Panel operates as stay of proceedings

The referral pauses a prosecution for the alleged offence (it operates as a stay of proceedings).

A prosecution for a simple possession offence cannot proceed unless the referral has been terminated by the service [Controlled Substances Act 1984 (SA) s 40].

In order to carry out its assessment, the service may request medical records, drug treatment records, criminal records, etc or require a medical examination [s 37(2)].

A referral may be may terminated if a person fails to comply, does not admit allegations or does not wish to participate in the program [s 37(3)]. In this case the prosecution for the simple possession offence can proceed.

Undertaking by person on completion assessment

After an assessment, a person enters into an undertaking similar to a bond for a period of up to six months, involving participation in treatment programs, counselling courses. Those under the age of 18 years are excluded from this scheme. If a person undertakes treatment or rehabilitation, the criminal charges are withdrawn [Controlled Substances Act 1984 (SA) s 38].

Participation not an admission of guilt

The fact that a person alleged to have committed a simple possession offence participates in an assessment or enters into an undertaking is not an admission of guilt [Controlled Substances Act 1984 (SA) s 40(2)].

On successful completion of an undertaking, the person is immune from prosecution [Controlled Substances Act 1984 (SA) s 40(4)].

Anything said or done by a person doing an assessment or undertaking is not admissible evidence in any proceedings for the alleged offence [s 40(3)].

More than three diversions

Whilst there is no limit to the number of times a person can be diverted for simple possession offences, an adult diverted on more than three occasions will be seen by a panel of assessors on the fourth and subsequent diversions.

CARDS (Court Assessment and Referral Drug Scheme)

A diversion program run through the court system is the CARDS (Court Assessment and Referral Drug Scheme) program. This program targets offenders who:

  • have current offences in court which were committed to support their drug dependence, or
  • committed offences whilst under the influence, or
  • have been charged with possession or use of an illicit drug

The intervention is intended to assist offenders who may be at an earlier stage in the drug use/offending cycle. Under the program, the defendant is referred for assessment by the court. If accepted onto the program, the court proceedings are adjourned for 3 months during which time defendant is required to attend at four sessions with a drug counsellor. Referrals are also made with other service providers such as psychologists and doctors as the particular individual may require. Participation in this program will be taken into account when someone is sentenced.

Eligibility criteria:

  • must be over 18 years of age at the time of the offending
  • must make an admission to treatable drug use
  • only applies to summary or minor indictable offences (i.e. major indictable offences cannot be diverted)
  • if the offender is in custody, they must be suitable for release into the community
  • must have stable accommodation available
  • must live in an area that is serviced by a treatment agency
  • must have no current sexual or violent offences
  • must give informed consent to participate


Referrals to CARDS can be made by the court, a legal practitioner or by the offender themselves (prior to the court hearing).


Treatment involves four sessions of drug counselling over a period of three months. Intervention can include:

  • withdrawal management and in patient detox
  • pharmacological treatment
  • group therapy
  • residential rehabilitation
  • support with physical and mental health issues
  • referral to Narcotics Anonymous and other groups
  • support with education or vocational training
  • support with accommodation, family relationships and financial issues

YOUTH CARDS (Court Assessment and Referral Drug Scheme)

This programme is available to young offenders (i.e. under 18 years of age) appearing before the Youth Court or who have a matter being dealt with by Family Conference.

Eligibility criteria:

  • have current offences in relation to possession or use of drugs/alcohol OR have committed an offence whilst under the influence of drugs/alcohol OR committed an offence to support a drug/alcohol habit
  • is suitable for release on bail
  • has provided informed consent to participate (or parental consent if under 16 years of age)
  • resides in an area where a treatment provider is available


Whilst referral is usually made by a Magistrate or Judge of the Youth Court or by the Family Conference team staff, self referrals can also be made.


  • Four counselling sessions over a three month period
  • Referral to a youth specific agency for drug/alcohol treatment services


Two programmes are offered – both of which are highly supervised and involve intensive drug treatment. Participation in the programme is terminated where an individual fails to comply.

  • Twelve month program is aimed at middle to hard end offenders who are looking at 12 months imprisonment or more, whose offending is linked to drug dependence and are assessed as needing an intensive drug intervention.

  • Six month program is aimed at individuals unlikely to receive a lengthy sentence of imprisonment and who are assessed as needing a less intensive drug intervention.

The program involve three phases of treatment and intervention:

Phase one

  • Home detention bail monitoring (to the minute) and controlled movement within the community
  • Random supervised urine tests three times a week
  • Attendance at court fortnightly

Phase two

  • Curfew monitored through home detention
  • Random supervised urine tests twice a week
  • Attendance at court every three weeks

Phase three

  • Simple bail
  • One supervised urine test per week
  • Monthly court attendance

Eligibility criteria:

  • must be over 18 years of age
  • must reside within the boundaries of the Adelaide metropolitan area
  • must enter guilty pleas to the majority of offences and, in particular, the most serious offences
  • available for summary and minor indictable offences only
  • cannot have any current major indictable matters pending
  • not have prior or current offences of violence
  • provide informed consent to participation


Can be through Magistrate, a legal practitioner or police charging sergeant. It is usually made by a court application upon entering a guilty plea. Those offenders with matters before suburban Magistrates Courts will be referred to the Adelaide Magistrate Court.


  • Individuals are assigned a Drug Court case supervisor
  • Individuals must coordinate leave passes with the consent of their supervisor
  • Extensive treatment and counselling including individual counselling and group therapies
  • Other supports are provided as needed e.g. financial counselling, coordination with Family Court matters, accommodation assistance and access to education
  • Assistance for Indigenous participants of the program is provided by the Aboriginal Sobriety Group
Sexual Offences  :  Last Revised: Mon Dec 10th 2018
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.