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4513.0 - Higher Criminal Courts, Australia, 2000-01  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 04/06/2002   
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INTRODUCTION

1 This publication presents information relating to the criminal jurisdiction of the Higher Courts (Supreme and Intermediate Courts) in each State and Territory, which is sourced from the national Higher Criminal Courts collection conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The criminal jurisdiction of the courts is responsible for the trial and sentencing of persons or corporations charged with criminal offences.

2 The aim of the collection is to provide comparable statistics for the States and Territories and for Australia on the management of court workloads and characteristics of defendants dealt with by the Higher Courts, including information on the offences and penalties associated with those defendants.

3 In order to ensure consistency between the States and Territories, the statistics have been compiled according to national standards and classifications. These have been developed by the National Criminal Courts Statistics Unit (NCCSU) of the ABS.

4 The NCCSU was established in 1994 following an initiative of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. The NCCSU is jointly funded by State and Territory courts agencies, the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department and the ABS. It reports to a Board of Management consisting of representatives of the funding parties, and receives technical advice from an Advisory Group of expert users of criminal justice statistics.

5 The statistics presented in this publication may be different from those published in individual States and Territories due to variations between the NCCSU definitions and counting rules and those used by individual States and Territories.

6 Given the high degree of conceptual complexity in the operation of the court systems in Australia, and the variation in the capacity of the States and Territories to supply statistical information, a staged approach has been adopted for the development and conduct of the Higher Criminal Courts collection.

7 This publication presents results from the first and second stages of the collection. Stage 1 information relates to criminal cases heard in the Supreme and Intermediate Courts, with data on defendants reported separately for each distinct court level. Stage 1 includes statistics on the number of defendants pending, initiated and finalised as well as information on the characteristics of defendants. Stage 2 information, which currently is considered to be experimental, covers offences and penalties associated with adjudicated defendants in the Higher Courts.

8 Future development of the collection will include further information on offences and penalties, and information from the Lower Criminal Court levels.


DATA SOURCE

9 National statistics are derived from data in respect of each defendant provided to ABS by the State and Territory agencies responsible for courts administration. The ABS receives the data directly from these agencies in all States and Territories except for Queensland (where it is supplied via the Office of Economic and Statistical Research) and Tasmania (where it is supplied via the State and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions).

10 For all States and Territories other than Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, data on offences and penalties were obtained from the same source that supplied data on the defendants with active cases before the Higher Courts. The source of data for the Australian Capital Territory does not record offence data in a manner that would enable national standards to be applied, hence no offence or penalty data are currently available for the Australian Capital Territory, and therefore Australia as a whole.

11 For Victoria, the offence and penalty data were derived from a sentencing database which stores information on all defendants proven guilty in the Higher Courts. These data were matched to the defendant records obtained from the primary source for Victorian data. The sentencing database records information on proven charges. Hence, no offence details are available for Victorian defendants acquitted of all charges or acquitted charges for defendants proven guilty. Also, there was incomplete coverage of defendants proven guilty as this data source is dependent on manual forms being supplied by the relevant court that handled the defendant's case. Thus, offence details were also unavailable for this missing group of defendants. The result, in both instances, is that a principal offence could not be identified for these defendants and they were classified to the category 'not able to be determined'.


SCOPE

12 The scope of the data in this publication consists of all defendants with charges before the original jurisdiction (see Glossary) of the Supreme and Intermediate Courts in Australia during the reference period 1 July 2000 to 30 June 2001. Within a given reference period, the total population of defendants active in a particular court level consists of those pending at the start of the reference period together with those initiated during the reference period.

13 The collection excludes cases heard in the criminal jurisdiction of the courts which do not require the adjudication of charges, e.g. bail reviews and applications to amend sentence or penalty. Also excluded are breach of bond cases and appeal cases.

14 The scope of the data collected and presented for Queensland is restricted. Figures for the number of pending defendants are currently not available. For 1996-97 to 1999-2000, the total figure for defendants initiated in Queensland only included defendants initiated by committal to the Higher Courts and has excluded other forms of initiation such as ex-officio indictment, bench warrants executed and transfers from other courts. For 2000-01, initiations data was not available for Queensland. Total figures for defendants finalised exclude defendants finalised by the issue of a bench warrant. Queensland has developed a new computerised courts administration system which has the potential to address existing data provision issues in the longer term. While this new system is in the process of being implemented in the Lower Courts, it is not currently known whether the system will be extended to the Higher Courts.

15 The Higher Criminal Courts collection obtains caseflow information on the number of defendants pending, initiated and finalised within the Higher Courts during the reference period. Details of initiation and finalisation for all defendants who enter Higher Courts are presented. The details of initiation include the date of committal, plea at committal, date of registration and method of initiation. The details of finalisation include the date of verdict, date of finalisation, method of finalisation, the defendant's final plea, along with offence and penalty details associated with adjudicated defendants.


REFERENCE PERIOD

16 This publication relates to defendants who had criminal cases active within the Higher Courts at any time during the reference period 1 July 2000 to 30 June 2001. A historical summary of the number of defendants initiated, finalised and pending for the years 1996-97 through to 1999-2000 is also provided in table 1 of the publication. For these previous reference periods, revisions may have been made to the number of defendants finalised.


COUNTING UNIT

17 The principal counting unit for the collection is the defendant. A defendant is a person or corporation against whom one or more criminal charges have been laid and which are heard together as the one unit of work by a court at a particular level. It should be noted that the Higher Criminal Courts collection does not enumerate individual persons or corporations. If a person or corporation is a defendant in a number of criminal cases active within the courts during the reference period, this person or corporation will be counted more than once within that reference period.


CLASSIFICATIONS

18 The national classifications used in the Higher Criminal Courts collection are:

  • Method of initiation (see Appendix 2 in the publication);
  • Method of finalisation (see Appendix 3 in the publication); and
  • Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) (see Appendix 4 in the publication).

19 The classifications provide a framework for classifying criminal court information for statistical purposes and ensuring that data are compiled on a consistent basis across the States and Territories. The classifications are hierarchical and allow for different levels of detail to be recorded depending on the level of detail in the source information. Associated with each classification are coding rules which ensure that the counting of information is consistent across the States and Territories.


COUNTING METHODOLOGY

Transfer between Higher Court levels

20 Defendants who transfer from one Higher Court level to another are considered as initiated only once (in the level they first entered) and finalised only once (from the level they finally left). Transfers are taken into account when determining the proportion of active workload finalised in table 1 of the publication at the Supreme and Intermediate Court levels.

Method of initiation

21 Method of initiation describes how a criminal charge is introduced to a court level. For the purposes of the collection, only one method of initiation is applied to each defendant in the Higher Courts. Where a defendant has multiple charges and these have different methods of initiation, the code applied is determined by the following order of precedence:
  • bench warrant executed
  • committed for trial
  • committed n.f.d.
  • committed for sentence
  • transfer from Court of Summary Jurisdiction to a Higher Court n.e.c.
  • ex-officio indictment of charges to Higher Court for trial
  • ex-officio indictment of charges to Higher Court n.f.d.
  • ex-officio indictment of charges to Higher Court for sentence
  • other transfer between court levels

Plea

22 Plea describes a defendant's formal response to a specific charge (see Glossary). A defendant's plea on each charge is entered during a court hearing and may change during the course of criminal proceedings. If a defendant has multiple charges, there may be different pleas for each charge. This collection presents an aggregated plea in which only one plea code is applied to the defendant. The rules for recording a plea are:
  • the plea for a defendant is 'not guilty' whenever the plea to one or more charges is not guilty, no plea, plea reserved, or other defended plea; and
  • the plea for a defendant is 'guilty' only when the plea to all charges is guilty.

23 The collection records plea information at the initiation and finalisation of the case. Initial plea (in most instances the committal plea) determines the judicial process (i.e. trial or sentence) scheduled for the defendant. The final plea is the last plea to be entered in the court level and reflects the judicial process that was ultimately used for the defendant.

Method of finalisation

24 Method of finalisation describes how a criminal charge is concluded by a court level. For the purposes of the collection, only one method of finalisation is applied to each defendant within the Higher Courts. Where a defendant has multiple charges and these have different methods of finalisation, the code applied is determined by the following order of precedence:
  • defendant deceased
  • bench warrant issued
  • unfit to plead
  • not guilty on grounds of insanity
  • guilty finding by court
  • charge proven n.f.d.
  • guilty plea by defendant
  • acquitted by court
  • charge unproven
  • transfer from a Higher Court to a Court of Summary Jurisdiction
  • other transfer between court levels
  • withdrawn by the prosecution
  • other non-adjudicated finalisation

Merging counting units

25 Where a person/corporation is a defendant in more than one case and their cases are finalised on the same date, in the same court level and in the same court location, their defendant records will be merged and counted as a single defendant record. However, merging will only occur where at least two of the following conditions are also met:
  • The date of initiation is the same.
  • The method of initiation is the same.
  • The method of finalisation is the same.

If one of these three conditions varies, the following coding rules apply:
  • Where the date of initiation varies, the earliest date is retained.
  • Where the method of initiation varies, the order of precedence rules for coding method of initiation are applied (see paragraph 21).
  • Where the method of finalisation varies, the order of precedence rules for coding method of finalisation are applied (see paragraph 24).

Principal offence adjudicated

26 The scope of charges considered for the purposes of determining the principal offence adjudicated are those where the court has made a decision as to whether or not the defendant is guilty (i.e. charges that have an adjudicated method of finalisation). Thus, charges that have been transferred for hearing in another level of court, together with those that are withdrawn or dealt with by some other non-adjudicated method, are not considered for the purposes of determining the principal offence adjudicated.

27 For a defendant who has a method of finalisation of proven guilty (resulting from a guilty verdict or guilty plea), the principal offence is selected from the charge(s) proven guilty (i.e. acquitted charges are not considered). For a defendant who has a method of finalisation of acquitted, the principal offence is selected from the charge(s) acquitted.

28 Where a defendant has a single proven guilty or acquitted charge, or multiple charges that fall into the same ASOC Division, the principal offence is the relevant ASOC Division associated with the adjudicated charge(s). Where a defendant has multiple charges proven guilty or multiple charges acquitted and the ASOC Divisions corresponding to these offences are not all the same, the main charge adjudicated is determined by applying the following rules.

29 Where a defendant with a method of finalisation of proven guilty has multiple charges proven guilty and the ASOC Divisions are not the same, the principal offence is determined according to the type and/or quantum of penalty imposed by the court. In the first instance, the principal offence will be selected on the basis of the charge that has a penalty of imprisonment (see Glossary). Where more than one proven guilty charge has a penalty of imprisonment, the charge having the longest imprisonment term will be selected as the principal offence. If none of the charges proven guilty has a penalty of imprisonment, the principal offence is coded as 'not able to be determined'.

30 The rule specified in paragraph 29 will be insufficient to determine a principal offence for defendants who have two or more charges proven guilty with a penalty of imprisonment where the length of imprisonment is either the same, unknown or recorded as a global penalty. Similarly, these rules do not deal with defendants with a method of finalisation of acquitted who have multiple charges in more than one ASOC Division. For these defendants, the main adjudicated charge is determined according to the nature of the offence type. In these circumstances, the principal offence is determined according to following rules:
  • ASOC Division 01 (Homicide and related offences) will override any other ASOC Division;
  • Any ASOC Division will override ASOC Division 16 (Miscellaneous offences);
  • ASOC Division 07 (Unlawful entry with intent) will override ASOC Division 08 (Theft and related offences);
  • ASOC Division 09 (Deception and related offences) will override ASOC Division 08 (Theft and related offences); and
  • If the multiple charges for the defendant cross more than two ASOC Divisions or pairs of ASOC Divisions other than those specified, the principal offence is coded as 'not able to be determined'.

Penalty type

31 Defendants that are proven guilty have penalty type information reported against their principal offence. A defendant can have multiple penalties due to multiple offences proven guilty and/or multiple penalties assigned to the one offence. A defendant will be coded as having an imprisonment penalty if at least one of the offences proven guilty is given an imprisonment penalty (see Glossary for definition). If none of the offences proven guilty have an imprisonment penalty but the defendant has been given another type of penalty for any of the offences proven guilty, the defendant will be coded to 'other penalty type'. The defendant will be coded to 'unknown penalty type' only when there is no penalty assigned to all of the offences proven guilty or penalty data is missing for all the proven guilty offences associated with the defendant.


DATA COMPARABILITY

32 The merging of defendant records will result in adjustments to the counts of defendants pending, initiated, and finalised. Where the defendants with merged records were initiated in one reference period and finalised in the next reference period, the number of pending defendants at the end of the first period (which will include the multiple defendants whose records are later merged into one) will be higher than the number of defendants pending at the start of the next period (where only each single 'merged' defendant is counted). This will have an impact on elapsed time for pending cases and the duration of finalised cases. Differences may also arise as a result of other factors, including refinements in data quality procedures and modifications in the systems used to obtain and compile the figures.

33 The Higher Criminal Courts collection has been designed to facilitate comparisons of States and Territories through the application of common national statistical standards. However, some remaining legislative and processing differences may limit the degree to which the statistics are comparable across the State and Territories.


DATA QUALITY

34 To ensure that the statistics are as reliable as possible the ABS has employed a number of measures. A range of edit checks identify any erroneous data and these are queried and resolved by the ABS in consultation with the relevant State or Territory representative. The final data are also checked against other available data sources, such as State and Territory court statistics and annual reports by the court administration agencies and the Offices of the Directors of Public Prosecutions.

35 Data quality control checks will continue to be reviewed and modified as the Higher Criminal Courts collection evolves. Data availability and quality will also improve as the States and Territories further develop and improve their court operational systems. Victorian statistical data in this publication may differ from prior and future publications for the reporting period 2000-01 due to a large data cleansing exercise undertaken in Victoria between July 2001 and September 2001.


EXPERIMENTAL DATA

36 The offence and penalty data included in Appendix 1 of the publication have not been subjected to the same type of validation processes that are applied to the other data presented in this publication and are thus being labelled as 'experimental'. The work undertaken by the ABS on incorporating offence and penalty information into this national collection has in the first instance concentrated on identifying the scope of charges that have been adjudicated and ensuring that these are coded to ASOC. No editing of offence data has been undertaken in terms of validating the method of finalisation and associated penalties for these charges or following up with the data providers where any information is missing or anomalies exist.

37 Offence data have been coded to ASOC on the basis of mappings of State/Territory legislative codes undertaken by various agencies within those States and Territories. The ABS has not undertaken any systematic checks to assess the quality of the ASOC coding for the charges adjudicated in the Higher Courts. Amendments to the ASOC codes have only been made in very limited cases where erroneous codes were identified as part of the edit checks applied to the final data.
38 The national counting methodology for selecting a principal offence adjudicated requires further development. It is currently not possible to determine a principal offence for some defendants who have multiple adjudicated charges belonging to different ASOC Divisions. For defendants acquitted, this mainly arises where the combination of offences does not match those described in the offence based coding rules outlined in paragraph 30. For defendants proven guilty, this mainly arises where penalties other than imprisonment have been given or where the imprisonment terms are the same or cannot be differentiated due to global sentencing. The principal offence rules will be extended to enable a principal offence to be determined for a greater proportion of defendants. For the 2000-01 data, the proportions of defendants who could not be assigned a principal offence ranged from 2% in the Northern Territory to 29% in Victoria and Tasmania.

39 The capacity to assign a principal offence code was also affected by incomplete data (e.g. missing ASOC codes and/or missing outcome information). In addition, no offence information was available for acquitted charges in Victoria (see paragraph 11). In these instances, a principal offence for the defendant could not be determined.

40 There are a few data quality issues which have impacted on the penalty data. The first issue relates to identifying those defendants who received a penalty of full-time imprisonment. While the national standards exclude fully suspended imprisonment terms, the penalty data supplied by Western Australia and the Northern Territory did not enable partially suspended sentences to be distinguished from fully suspended sentences. All suspended sentences have been included in the definition of imprisonment. As a result, for Western Australia and the Northern Territory, the figures in table A1.6 of Appendix 1 in the publication, for the category 'imprisonment' will be inflated. Secondly, for South Australia and Tasmania, the form in which the penalty data were supplied did not readily enable defendants with penalties other than imprisonment to be identified. Consequently, the categories of 'other penalty type' and 'unknown' have been treated as not available.


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