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4513.0 - Criminal Courts, Australia, 2002-03  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/02/2004   
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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 and 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 sentences 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 Due to differing scope and counting rules the data in this publication may not be comparable to data published in other national and state/territory publications.

6 Given the high degree of conceptual complexity in the operation of the courts 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 initiated and finalised as well as information on the characteristics of defendants. Stage 2 information relates to offences and sentence types associated with defendants who are finalised by adjudication in the Higher Criminal Courts. Stage 3 information, which currently is considered to be experimental (see paragraphs 45-47 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 these 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 New South Wales (where, for the first time, it is being supplied via the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research this year).

9 Standardisation of data requires the states and territories to provide data coded according to national classifications and standards. Higher Criminal Courts data have been provided in a standardised format for the 2002-03 reference period by all states and territories excluding Tasmania. Tasmania did not provide standardised data for the offence and sentence type data items. This is the first time that standardised data have been provided by New South Wales and the Northern Territory. All other states and the Australian Capital Territory provided standardised data for the first time in the 2001-02 reference period. Prior to this the NCCSU received the data coded to local classifications and standards and 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 sources. For defendants with offences proven guilty, the offence and sentence type information was derived from the Higher Courts sentencing 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 for some defendants were unavailable. 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 Higher Criminal Courts collection includes defendants initiated and finalised in the original jurisdiction (see Glossary) of the Supreme and Intermediate Courts in Australia during the reference period 1 July 2002-30 June 2003.

12 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, and offence and sentence type details for adjudicated defendants. Details of initiation for all defendants who enter the Higher Criminal Courts are available as special data services. For further information regarding the availability of companion data contact the National Information Referral Service on 1300 135 070.

Magistrates' Criminal Courts

13 Data on defendants finalised in the criminal jurisdiction of the Magistrates' Courts have been included in this publication, following their inclusion for the first time in Criminal Courts, Australia 2001-02 (cat. no. 4513.0). However, due to data quality issues they are labelled as 'experimental' (see paragraphs 45-47). These data include all defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Courts in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory.

14 Data on defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Courts in Tasmania are restricted to Southern Tasmanian Magistrates' Criminal Courts. A new recording system was implemented during the reference period for areas outside of Southern Tasmania (see paragraph 47). Data on defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Courts in New South Wales do not include defendants finalised by committal or transfer to a Higher Court as this data are currently not available.

Exclusions

15 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.

16 The Magistrates' Criminal Court data exclude defendants finalised in the Childrens' Courts, Drug Courts, Electronic Courts, Family Violence Courts and Koori Courts.


REFERENCE PERIOD

17 The statistics in this collection relate to defendants who had criminal cases initiated or finalised within the Higher Criminal Courts and/or were finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Courts during the reference period 1 July 2002-30 June 2003.

18 A historical summary of the number of defendants finalised in the Higher Criminal Courts for the years 1996-97 through to 2002-03 is provided in table 11.


COUNTING UNIT

19 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

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

  • Method of finalisation (see Appendix 2)
  • Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) (see Appendix 3)
  • National Offence Index (see Appendix 4)
  • Sentence type (see Appendix 5).

21 The classifications provide a framework for classifying criminal court information for statistical purposes and ensuring that data are compiled on a consistent basis across 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 states and territories.


COUNTING METHODOLOGY

Transfer between Higher Criminal Court levels

22 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

23 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 Courts whilst other charges are committed to the Higher Criminal Courts. A defendant in this situation would be counted in the Magistrates' Criminal Courts data and the Higher Criminal Courts data.

Plea

24 Plea describes the 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.

25 The Criminal Courts collection records plea information at the initiation of each case in the Higher Criminal Courts, and at the 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

26 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 Courts and each defendant within the Higher Criminal Courts.

27 As part of the original ABS Higher Criminal Courts collection, a bench warrant issued was considered a method of finalisation. For the 2002-03 reference period, this is no longer considered a method of finalisation for a defendant in the Higher Criminal Courts (in 2001-02 there were 443 defendants with a method of finalisation of bench warrant issued, representing 2% of total finalised defendants). This aligns with the Magistrates' Criminal Courts which do not include a bench warrant issued as a method of finalisation.

28 Defendants who are referred to a Mental Health Review Tribunal (e.g. for determination of fitness for trial) are not considered to be finalised.

Higher Criminal Courts

29 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
  • 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 n.f.d.
  • transfer from a Higher Court to a Court of Summary Jurisdiction
  • other transfer between court levels
  • withdrawn by prosecution
  • other non-adjudicated method of finalisation.

Magistrates' Criminal Courts

30 Where a defendant finalised in a 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 n.f.d.
  • committed for trial
  • committed for trial n.f.d.
  • committed for sentence
  • non-committed transfer from a Court of Summary Jurisdiction to a Higher Court
  • other transfer between court levels
  • withdrawn by prosecution
  • other non-adjudicated method of finalisation.

Merging counting units

31 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 single defendant record. This merging rule is also used for defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Courts.

32 Prior to the 2002-03 reference period in the Higher Criminal Courts merging utilised the rules in paragraph 31, in addition merging only occurred when at least two of the following conditions were met:
  • the date of initiation was the same
  • the method of initiation was the same
  • and/or the method of finalisation was the same.

Principal offence adjudicated

33 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.

34 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.

35 Where a defendant has a single proven guilty or acquitted charge the principal offence is the relevant ASOC code (see paragraph 37) associated with the adjudicated charge.

36 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 38) 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 is not included in the Index) the principal offence is coded to 'not able to be determined'.

Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC)

37 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)

38 The National Offence Index (see Appendix 4) 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 the 2000-01 reference period. 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% in 2001-02 using the Index.

39 The assumptions and rules underpinning the NOI, in particular defining 'offence seriousness' and the subsequent impact of this definition on the ranking of offences, need to be considered when using the principal offence data in this publication. However, it is important to note that these technical issues are only of practical significance where a choice must be made between output categories (see paragraph 40). For example, although some Sexual assault and related offences are ranked ahead of Illicit drug and related offences, they are unlikely to co-occur. For further information regarding the development of the NOI please refer to Appendix 5 in Criminal Courts, Australia 2001-02.

40 The principal offence for each adjudicated defendant is aggregated and published at the ASOC Division level for selected tables, and at the more detailed ASOC subdivision level (including the ASOC Group of Breach of domestic violence orders) for other tables.

Principal sentence type

41 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 offence 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 multiple sentences the principal sentence type is selected by applying the hierarchy of the Sentence Type Classification (see Appendix 5).


DATA COMPARABILITY

42 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.

43 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 produced by the court administration agencies and the Offices of the Directors of Public Prosecutions.

44 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.


EXPERIMENTAL DATA

45 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 focussed on identifying the scope of defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Courts and characteristics of these defendants.

46 There are data quality issues which have impacted on the data published for the Magistrates' Criminal Courts for 2002-03. The first issue relates to the implementation of the ABS counting rules for determining the count of finalised defendants. In particular, in New South Wales and the Northern Territory finalised appearances were counted rather than finalised defendants. Therefore, for this state and territory where charges were finalised at different court appearances for the same case for a defendant, these were counted as finalised defendants at each appearance rather than being correctly finalised as a single defendant at the latest charge finalisation date.

47 The second issue relates to the availability of Magistrates' Criminal Court data in Tasmania. Data on defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Courts in Tasmania is restricted to Southern Tasmania for 1 July 2002-30 June 2003. A new recording system was implemented during the reference period for areas outside of Southern Tasmania.


RELATED PUBLICATIONS

ABS publications

48 ABS publications which may be of interest include:

Australian Social Trends (cat. no. 4102.0) - issued annually

Australian Standard Offence Classification (cat. no. 1234.0) - irregular

Corrective Services, Australia (cat. no. 4512.0) - issued quarterly

Crime and Safety, Australia (cat. no. 4509.0) - irregular

Crime and Safety, New South Wales (cat. no. 4509.1) - irregular

Crime and Safety, South Australia (cat. no. 4509.4) - irregular

Crime and Safety, Western Australia (cat. no. 4509.5) - irregular

Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics (cat. no. 4160.0) - irregular

Measuring Australia's Progress (cat. no. 1370.0) - issued annually

Prisoners in Australia (cat. no. 4517.0) - issued annually

Recorded Crime - Victims, Australia (cat. no. 4510.0) - issued annually (previously titled Recorded Crime, Australia)

49 Current publications and other products released by the ABS are listed in the Catalogue of Publications and Products (cat. no. 1101.0). The Catalogue is available from any ABS office or the ABS web site <http://www.abs.gov.au>. The ABS also issues a daily Release Advice on the web site which details products to be released in the week ahead. The National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics releases a biannual newsletter that is published on the ABS internet site. The Centre can be contacted by email <crime.justice@abs.gov.au>.

Non-ABS publications

50 Non-ABS sources of criminal court statistics which may be of interest include:

Australian Institute of Criminology, List of Publications <http://www.aic.gov.au>

Chief Justice of Western Australia, Annual Review of Western Australian Courts

Crime Research Centre, University of Western Australia, Crime and Justice Statistics for Western Australia

Department of Justice, Northern Territory, Annual Report

Department of Justice, Victoria, Annual Report

Department of Justice, Western Australia, Annual Report

Department of Justice and Attorney General, Queensland, Annual Report

Department of Justice and Community Safety, Australian Capital Territory, Annual Report

Department of Justice and Industrial Relations, Tasmania, Annual Report

Director of Public Prosecutions, Annual Report, all State, Territory and Commonwealth Offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions

District Court of Queensland, Annual Report

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, New South Wales Criminal Courts Statistics

Office of Courts Administration, Northern Territory, Annual Report

Office of Crime Statistics and Research, South Australia, Crime and Justice in South Australia Adult Courts and Corrections

Office of Economic and Statistic Research, Crime and Justice Statistics Queensland

Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth/State Service Provision, Report on Government Services

South Australia Courts Administration Authority, Annual Report

Supreme Court of Queensland, Annual Report

Supreme Court of Tasmania, Annual Report

Victoria Police, Crime Statistics



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