Douglas James Wade was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a 22-month-old girl.

But now the 50-year-old could walk free next year.

Wade was jailed for life in 1989 for the murder of his then girlfriend's toddler daughter while babysitting her in Tumut in southern NSW.

He was also convicted of having sexual intercourse with her and sentenced to 10 years for that crime.

Under legislation brought out just after his conviction, Wade has since applied to the NSW Supreme Court for a determination of his life sentence and has asked for a fixed term.

On Monday, Justice Megan Latham ordered this sentence be a maximum of 36 years and set his earliest date of release as August 2014.

In handing down her decision, Justice Latham recognised the pain the toddler's family continued to feel, particularly around the anniversary of the girl's birth and death.

"It's understandable that they would wish for the lifelong incarceration (of Wade) given that they have forever been deprived of a daughter, sibling and granddaughter."

However, she said Wade presented a relative low risk of reoffending and the former shearer had a strong, supportive family.

Wade, the court heard, had been babysitting the girl, who cannot be named, on August 1988 while her mother went out with friends.

When the mother returned home about half an hour later, Wade said: "Get in here quickly ... I hit her and she hit her head on the floor".

The girl died shortly after, with a post mortem examination revealing she had suffered multiple injuries, including bruises to her vagina and abdomen.

In the months before the girl's death, bruises were observed on her stomach, face, thighs and vulva.

Wade unsuccessfully appealed his convictions in 2000, saying he had only struck the toddler once with a "backhand" blow to her abdominal region after she disobeyed him.

He continues to deny he sexually assaulted the girl.