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4513.0 - Criminal Courts, Australia, 2001-02  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 09/04/2003   
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INTRODUCTION

1 This publication presents information, relating to the criminal jurisdiction of the Higher Courts (Supreme and Intermediate Courts) and Magistrates' Courts in each state and territory, which is sourced from the national 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 organisations charged with criminal offences.

2 The aim of the Criminal Courts collection is to provide comparable statistics for the states and territories and for Australia on the characteristics of defendants dealt with by the Criminal Courts. This includes information on the offences and penalties associated with those defendants, as well as some general information on the management of court workloads.

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. The NCCSU is also supported by the Court Practitioners' Group.

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 Criminal Courts collection.

7 This publication presents results from the first, second and third stages of the collection. Stage 1 information relates to criminal cases heard in the Supreme and Intermediate Courts. This includes statistics on the number of defendants pending, initiated and finalised as well as information on the characteristics of defendants. Stage 2 information relates to offences and sentence types associated with adjudicated defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts. Stage 3 information, which currently is considered to be experimental (see paragraphs 49-52 for further information), relates to defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Courts and their characteristics, including offences and sentence types for adjudicated defendants.


DATA SOURCE

8 National statistics are derived from data in respect of each defendant provided to the ABS by the state and territory agencies responsible for courts administration. This is for defendants processed in the Higher Criminal and Magistrates' Criminal Courts. 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).

9 Higher Criminal Courts data was provided for the first time in a standardised format for the 2001-02 reference period by five states (Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania) and the Australian Capital Territory. Standardisation of data requires the states and territories to provide data fully coded according to national classifications and standards. For NSW and Northern Territory, and in previous years for all jurisdictions, the NCCSU received the data coded to local classifications and standards and it undertook the required processes to standardise these data.

10 For states and territories other than Victoria and Tasmania, data on offences and sentence types were obtained from the same source that supplied data on defendants. For Victoria, the offence and sentence type data for adjudicated defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts were derived from two additional sources. For defendants with offences proven guilty, the offence and sentence type information was derived from the Higher Courts sentencing database. Offence information for defendants finalised by acquittal was sourced from the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions database. These data were matched to the defendant records obtained from the primary source for Victorian data. There was incomplete coverage of defendants proven guilty in the Victorian Higher Courts sentencing database, and therefore, offence details were unavailable for these defendants. Tasmanian Higher Criminal Courts offence and sentence type information was sourced from the Tasmanian sentencing database and matched back to the original source data.


SCOPE

Higher Criminal Courts

11 The scope of the data in this publication relating to defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts 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 2001-30 June 2002. Within a given reference period, the total population of defendants active in a particular court level consists of those finalised during the reference period together with those pending at the end of the reference period.

12 The scope of the Higher Criminal Courts data collected and presented for Queensland is restricted as the figures for the number of pending defendants are currently not available. The total figure for defendants initiated in Queensland only included defendants initiated by committal to the Higher Criminal Courts and has excluded other forms of initiation such as ex-officio indictment, bench warrants executed and transfers from other courts. Total figures for defendants finalised exclude defendants finalised by the issue of a bench warrant.

13 The Higher Criminal Courts section of the 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 finalisation for all defendants who enter the Higher Criminal Courts are presented. The details of finalisation include the date of finalisation, method of finalisation, the defendant's final plea, and offence and sentence type details for adjudicated defendants.

Magistrates' Criminal Court

14 Data on defendants finalised in the criminal jurisdiction of the Magistrates' Courts has been included for the first time in this publication. However, due to coverage and other data quality issues it has been labelled as 'experimental' in this issue (see paragraphs 49-52). This data includes all defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Courts in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Data on defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Court in Tasmania is restricted to Southern Tasmanian Magistrates' Criminal Courts for the reference period 1 March 2002-30 June 2002 (see paragraph 52). This is due to a major change in recording system that occurred from 1 March 2002 (Southern Tasmania accounts for approximately 50% of all Tasmanian Magistrates' Criminal Court cases).

15 Data on defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Courts in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory were not able to be extracted for inclusion in this issue of the publication. Hence, Magistrates' Criminal Court data is currently unavailable for an Australian total.

Exclusions

16 The Magistrates' Criminal Court and Higher Criminal Court data exclude 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, appeal cases and tribunal matters.

17 The Magistrates' Criminal Court data excludes defendants finalised in the Children's Court, Drug Courts and Electronic Courts.


REFERENCE PERIOD

18 The statistics in this publication relate to defendants who had criminal cases active within the Higher Criminal Courts and/or were finalised within the Magistrates' Criminal Court during the reference period 1 July 2001-30 June 2002.

19 A historical summary of the number of defendants initiated, finalised and pending in the Higher Criminal Courts for the years 1996-97 through to 2001-02 is provided in table 10 in the publication. For these previous reference periods, revisions have been made to the number of defendants finalised and the number of defendants pending at end of period.


COUNTING UNIT

20 The principal counting unit for the Criminal Courts collection is the defendant. A defendant is a person or organisation 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 Criminal Courts collection does not enumerate individual persons or organisations. If a person or organisation is a defendant in a number of criminal cases active within the courts during the reference period, this person or organisation will be counted more than once within that reference period.


CLASSIFICATIONS

21 The national classifications used to collect and produce data on defendants in the Criminal Courts are:

  • Method of initiation (see Appendix 2 in the publication)
  • Method of finalisation (see Appendix 3 in the publication)
  • Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) (see Appendix 4 in the publication)
  • National Offence Index (see Appendix 6 in the publication)
  • Sentence type (see Appendix 7 in the publication)

22 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 Criminal Court levels

23 Defendants who transfer from one Higher Criminal 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).

Transfer between Magistrates' Criminal and Higher Criminal Court levels

24 Defendants who transfer from the Magistrates' Criminal Court level to the Higher Criminal Court level are considered as initiated twice (once in each of these levels) and finalised twice (once in each level). Defendants may have some charges finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Court whilst other charges are committed to the Higher Criminal Courts. A defendant in this situation would be counted in the Magistrates' Criminal Court data and the Higher Criminal Courts data.

Method of Initiation

25 Method of initiation describes how a criminal charge is introduced to a court level. For the purposes of this collection, only one method of initiation is applied to each defendant in the Magistrates' Criminal and Higher Criminal Courts.

Higher Criminal Courts

26 Where a defendant in a Higher Criminal Court has multiple charges and these have different methods of initiation, the defendant method of initiation code 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.

Magistrates' Criminal Court

27 Where a defendant in the Magistrates' Criminal Court has multiple charges and these have different methods of initiation, the defendant method of initiation code is determined by the following order of precedence:
  • charges laid before Court of Summary Jurisdiction
  • transfer from Intermediate or Supreme Court to Court of Summary Jurisdiction
  • transfer between court levels n.e.c. (e.g. Drug Court, Children's Court).

Plea

28 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
  • the plea for a defendant is 'guilty' only when the plea to all charges is guilty.

29 The Criminal Courts collection records plea information at the initiation and finalisation of each case in the Magistrates' Criminal and Higher Criminal Courts levels. Initial 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

30 Method of finalisation describes how a criminal charge is concluded by a court level. For the purposes of the Criminal Courts collection, one method of finalisation is applied to each defendant within the Magistrates' Criminal Court and each defendant within the Higher Criminal Courts.

31 As part of the original ABS Higher Criminal Courts collection, the issuance of a bench warrant is considered a method of finalisation. However, in the expansion of this collection to the Magistrates' Criminal Court the issuance of a bench warrant is not considered a method of finalisation for a defendant in the Magistrates' Criminal Court.

Higher Criminal Courts

32 Where a defendant finalised in a Higher Criminal Court has multiple charges and these have different methods of finalisation, the defendant method of finalisation code 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.

Magistrates' Criminal Court

33 Where a defendant finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Court has multiple charges and these have different methods of finalisation, the defendant method of finalisation code is determined by the following order of precedence:
  • defendant deceased
  • 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
  • committed for trial
  • committed for sentence
  • non-committed transfer from a Court of Summary Jurisdiction to a Higher Court
  • other transfer between court levels
  • withdrawn by the prosecution
  • other non-adjudicated finalisation.

Merging counting units - Higher Criminal Courts

34 Where a person/organisation is a defendant in more than one case within the Higher Criminal Courts 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.

35 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 26).
  • Where the method of finalisation varies, the order of precedence rules for coding method of finalisation are applied (see paragraph 32).

Merging counting units - Magistrates' Criminal Court

36 Where a person/organisation is a defendant in more than one case within the Magistrates' Criminal Court 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.

Principal offence adjudicated

37 Principal offence is only calculated for adjudicated defendants. The scope of charges considered for the purposes of determining the principal offence adjudicated are those where the defendant has pleaded guilty or 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 to 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.

38 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.

39 Where a defendant has a single proven guilty or acquitted charge the principal offence is the relevant ASOC Code (see paragraph 41) associated with the adjudicated charge.

40 Where a defendant has a method of finalisation of proven guilty with multiple charges proven guilty, or where a defendant has a method of finalisation of acquitted with multiple charges acquitted, the principal offence is selected by applying the National Offence Index (see paragraph 42) to these charges. The principal offence is determined as the adjudicated charge with the highest ranked ASOC Group in the Index. Where the defendant has an adjudicated charge but is unable to receive an Index ranking (due to missing offence information or the offence mapped to an ASOC code not included in the index) the principal offence is coded to 'not able to be determined'.

Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC)

41 Offence data have been coded to the 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 Criminal 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.

National Offence Index (NOI)

42 The National Offence Index (see Appendix 6 in the publication) is a ranking of all ASOC Groups and selected supplementary ASOC codes (ASOC Divisions and/or ASOC Subdivisions). This ranking is based on the concept of seriousness, with a ranking of 1 relating to the ASOC code containing the most serious offence. In developing this Index, the ranking of offences was analysed using the 2000-01 Higher Criminal Courts data. The results indicated that the Index produced principal offence output that aligned with that produced using the 2000-01 Principal Offence rules which were based on actual sentences handed down in the Higher Criminal Courts. In addition, the Index resulted in significant data quality improvements with the proportion of adjudicated defendants for whom a principal offence was unable to be determined reducing from a national average of 17% in 2000-01 to 3% using the Index.

43 The principal offence for each adjudicated defendant is aggregated and published at the ASOC Division level.

Principal sentence type

44 Within this publication, defendants who are proven guilty have sentence type information reported against them at the defendant level. This is usually, though not necessarily, the sentence associated with the principal offence. A defendant can receive a single sentence for a single offence proven guilty, a single sentence for multiple offences proven guilty, multiple sentences due to multiple offences proven guilty and/or multiple sentences assigned to the one offence proven guilty. Where a defendant has a single sentence this is the principal sentence recorded for that defendant. Where a defendant has multiple sentences the principal sentence type is selected by applying the hierarchy of the Sentence Type Classification (see Appendix 7 in the publication).


DATA COMPARABILITY

45 The merging of defendant records will result in adjustments to the counts of defendants pending, initiated, and finalised. For the Higher Criminal Courts, 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.

46 The 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 states and territories. 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.

47 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.

48 Data quality control checks will continue to be reviewed and modified as the 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

49 The Magistrates' Criminal Court data included in this issue 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 Magistrates' Criminal Court data into this national collection has focused on identifying the scope of defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Courts and characteristics of these defendants.

50 There are data quality issues which have impacted on the data published for the Magistrates' Criminal Courts. The first issue relates to the identification of the correct population for finalised defendants. Due to the large population of defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Courts, the ABS received aggregate data from providers which was pre-coded at source according to national standards and classifications. Receipt of the data in this format enabled the ABS to process this data more efficiently than if non-standardised data was received. However, it should be noted that due to the preliminary nature of this collection, a data quality framework has yet to be developed.

51 The second issue relates to the application of method of finalisation coding rules. Magistrates' Criminal Court procedures are not always able to clearly distinguish between a charge that is finalised as acquitted and a charge that is withdrawn. In particular, Queensland has a disproportionate number of defendants classified as acquitted compared to other states and the Northern Territory. Also, in concording Victoria's codes to national classifications, one of the local codes was able to be applied as a method of finalisation for both proven guilty defendants and defendants appearing for committal hearings who were acquitted. For this publication Victoria was unable to disaggregate this local code to separate defendants proven guilty from those acquitted. As Victoria indicated that the local code was used primarily for defendants proven guilty, this code was mapped to proven guilty for the purposes of current publication output. The ABS will be investigating these issues further prior to the release of the next issue of this publication.

52 The third issue relates to the availability of Magistrates' Criminal Court data in Tasmania. Due to a change over of recording systems for this data in early 2002, Tasmania was only able to supply Magistrates' Criminal Court data for Southern Tasmanian Magistrates' Courts for the period 1 March 2002-30 June 2002.


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