Australian federal prosecutors & international criminal law

Irina Baranova

As criminal investigations and prosecutions become increasingly transnational in nature, a greater number of Commonwealth prosecutions rely on assistance from foreign law enforcement agencies.

The international work of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP), which primarily relates to extradition and mutual assistance, is coordinated by the International Assistance and Specialist Agencies Practice Group (the “Practice Group”).

The Practice Group also prosecutes matters referred by partner agencies and coordinates the CDPP’s proceeds of crime functions. Information about the function of the Practice Group is provided in the CDPP’s 2020-21 Annual Report.

Key referring agencies

Throughout 2020-21 the Practice Group received 368 referrals and had 415 matters on hand. The top five referring agencies are identified in the report:

Agency Number of cases referred Percentage of cases referred
Australian Financial Security Authority 121 32.9%
Australian Federal Police 78 21.2%
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 63 17.1%
State and territory police 31 8.4%
Australian Maritime Safety Authority 16 4.4%


The Practice Group works closely with over 40 partner agencies from the pre-brief stage throughout the prosecution process.

Matters managed

The Practice Group handles a range of matters including:

Administration of justice offences Industrial chemicals
Aged care Intellectual property
Aviation Marine safety
Bankruptcy Measurement
Building and construction industry Mutual assistance
Census offences Offences against Commonwealth officials or property
Clean energy schemes Radiocommunications
Crimes at sea Royal Commission Act offences
Criminal justice certificates and visas Secrecy, browsing and unauthorised disclosure
Defence Space activities
Education and training compliance Sports integrity
Electoral offences Specific regulatory offences
Environment Therapeutic goods
Extradition Tobacco advertising and plain packaging
Family day care fraud Wildlife trafficking
Fisheries Work, health and safety
Indigenous corporations  


Prosecution trends

Referrals have become increasingly complex and significant in scope. During the reporting period, there was considerable work in the areas of bankruptcy, the environment, family day care fraud, fisheries, maritime safety, therapeutic goods, and workplace safety.

In a recent case, three co-conspirators defrauded the Commonwealth Department of Education, Skills and Employment of more than $9 million through childcare fraud. The offenders set up companies and installed directors as front people to distance themselves from the fraud, where childcare benefits were claimed but no actual childcare took place. One conspirator has been sentenced to four years imprisonment with a nonparole period of two-and-a-half years. The two other conspirators are awaiting sentencing.

International assistance and the prosecution of transnational crime

International assistance, which includes extradition and mutual assistance, is vital for the effective investigation and prosecution of serious offences such as terrorism, human trafficking, drug trafficking, bribery of foreign officials and money laundering offences.

Increasingly, the Practice Group seeks cooperation from countries to assist in prosecuting transnational crime and to apprehend and extradite fugitives.

Mutual Assistance

Mutual assistance is a formal process underpinned by a number of bilateral treaties and multilateral conventions, which oblige the relevant parties to assist each other in relevant matters. Mutual assistance works in conjunction with international cooperation, which can be seen as a less formal method of assistance.

The Practice Group is responsible for drafting mutual assistance requests to foreign countries to support Australian criminal proceedings for federal offences where charges have been laid against the alleged offender.


The Attorney-General’s Department has sole responsibility for international extradition for all countries except New Zealand. The Practice Group’s role in extradition is confined to requesting that extradition be sought in Commonwealth matters and the execution of incoming requests from New Zealand.

In the case of outgoing extradition requests, the Practice Group prepares documents in support of requests for extradition in serious cases where a person is wanted for prosecution for an offence against Commonwealth law or to serve a sentence of imprisonment, and is found to be in a foreign country.

Incoming requests from New Zealand are made on a police-to-police basis and are referred to the Practice Group by the Australian Federal Police. The Practice Group appears on behalf of New Zealand in extradition proceedings before a magistrate to determine whether a person will be surrendered, and in any review or appeal arising from those proceedings.

Key takeaways

The International Assistance and Specialist Agencies Practice Group coordinates the international work of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, which primarily relates to extradition and mutual assistance. It also handles complex cases which may not have an international element, with recent prosecutions spanning a range of areas including day care fraud and workplace safety. The Practice Group works closely with over 40 partner agencies as well as with other countries to facilitate international assistance and the prosecution of transnational crime.

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