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4513.0 - Criminal Courts, Australia, 2003-04  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 11/02/2005   
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INTRODUCTION

1 This publication presents information relating to the criminal jurisdiction of the Higher (Supreme and Intermediate) and Magistrates' Courts in each state and territory, which is sourced from the national Criminal Courts collection produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) with the cooperation of the states and territories. 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.

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 Australian Government 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 (from 1995 onwards) relates to criminal cases heard in the Supreme and Intermediate Courts. This includes statistics on the number of defendants finalised as well as information on the characteristics of defendants. Stage 2 information (from 2001-02 onwards) relates to offences and sentences associated with defendants who are finalised by adjudication in the Higher Courts. Stage 3 information (from 2003-04 onwards) relates to defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Courts and their characteristics, including offences and sentences for defendants who were finalised by adjudication.


DATA SOURCE

8 National statistics are derived from data about each defendant provided to the ABS by the state and territory agencies responsible for courts administration. This includes defendants processed in the Higher and Magistrates' Courts. The ABS receives data directly from these agencies in all states and territories except for Queensland (where data are supplied via the Office of Economic and Statistical Research), and New South Wales (where data are supplied via the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research).

9 Standardisation of data requires the states and territories to provide data coded according to national classifications and standards. Higher Courts data have been provided in a standardised format for the 2003-04 reference period by all states and territories. Refer to paragraphs 14-15 for Magistrates' Courts.

10 For states and territories other than Victoria data on offences and sentences were obtained from the same source that supplied data on defendants. For Victoria, the offence and sentence data for adjudicated defendants in the Higher Courts were derived from two sources. For defendants with offences proven guilty, the offence and sentence information was derived from the Higher Courts sentencing database. These data were matched to the defendant records obtained from the primary source (courts listing system) 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.

Higher Courts

11 The Higher Courts collection includes defendants finalised in the original jurisdiction (see Glossary) of the Supreme and Intermediate Courts in Australia during the reference period 1 July 2003-30 June 2004.

12 Details of finalisation for all defendants who enter the Higher Courts are presented. The details of finalisation include the duration, method of finalisation, and offence and sentence details for adjudicated defendants.

Magistrates' Courts

13 Data on defendants finalised in the criminal jurisdiction of the Magistrates' Courts have been included in the main suite of this publication for the first time. These data were first included as 'experimental' statistics in Criminal Courts, Australia, 2001-02 (cat. no. 4513.0).

14 These data include defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Courts for all states and territories except New South Wales where finalised appearances were provided instead of finalised defendants. Therefore, where charges were finalised at different court appearances in the same case for a defendant in New South Wales, these were counted as finalised defendants at each appearance rather than being aggregated as a single finalised defendant at the latest charge finalisation date.

15 Data on defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Courts in New South Wales do not include defendants finalised by committal or transfer to a Higher Court.

Exclusions

16 The Higher and Magistrates' Courts 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 sentences or penalties). Also excluded are breach of bond cases, appeal cases, tribunal matters and defendants for whom a bench warrant is issued but not executed.

17 The Magistrates' Court data exclude defendants finalised in the Childrens' Courts, Drug Courts, Electronic Courts, Family Violence Courts and Aboriginal programs.


REFERENCE PERIOD

18 The statistics in this collection relate to defendants who had criminal cases finalised within the Higher Courts and/or were finalised in the Magistrates' Courts during the reference period 1 July 2003-30 June 2004.

19 A historical summary of the number of defendants finalised in the Higher Courts for the years 1996-97 through to 2003-04 is provided in table 14.


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 finalised within the courts during the reference period, this person or organisation will be counted more than once within that reference period.


CLASSIFICATIONS

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

  • Method of Finalisation (see Appendix 1)
  • Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) (see Appendix 2)
  • National Offence Index (see Appendix 3)
  • Sentence Type (see Appendix 4).

22 The classifications provide a framework for classifying criminal court information for statistical purposes, promoting data that are compiled on a consistent basis across states and territories. The classifications 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 Court levels

23 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).

Transfer between Magistrates' and Higher Court levels

24 Defendants who transfer from the Magistrates' Court level to the Higher 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' Courts whilst other charges are committed to the Higher Courts. A defendant in this situation would be counted in the Magistrates' Courts data and the Higher Courts data.

Method of finalisation

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

26 As part of the original ABS Higher courts collection, a bench warrant issued was considered a method of finalisation. From the 2002-03 reference period, this is no longer considered a method of finalisation for a defendant in the Higher Courts. This aligns with the Magistrates' Courts which do not include a bench warrant issued as a method of finalisation.

27 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 Courts

28 Where a defendant finalised in a Higher 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
  • 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' Courts

29 Where a defendant finalised in a Magistrates' 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 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

30 Where a person or organisation 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. This merging rule is used for defendants finalised in both the Higher and Magistrates' Courts.

Principal offence adjudicated

31 Principal offence is only calculated for adjudicated defendants. Charges considered for the purpose of determining the principal offence are only those charges that have an adjudicated method of finalisation (i.e. where the defendant has pleaded guilty or the court has made a decision as to whether or not the defendant is guilty). 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.

32 For a defendant who has a method of finalisation of proven guilty (resulting from a guilty verdict, guilty plea or guilty ex-parte), 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.

33 Where a defendant has a single proven guilty or acquitted charge, the principal offence is the relevant ASOC code (see paragraphs 35-36) associated with the adjudicated charge.

34 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 37) 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)

35 The ASOC was developed by the ABS for use in the collection and publication of crime and justice statistics. It provides a uniform national classificatory framework for the compilation and comparison of statistics on offences across Australia.

36 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)

37 The National Offence Index (see Appendix 3) 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 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 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.

38 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 39). 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 (cat. no. 4513.0).

39 The principal offence for each adjudicated defendant (i.e. acquitted or proven guilty) is aggregated and published at the ASOC Division level for selected tables, and at the more detailed ASOC Subdivision or Group level (including the ASOC Group of Breach of domestic violence orders) for other tables.

Principal sentence

40 Within this publication, defendants who are proven guilty have sentence 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 for multiple offences proven guilty and/or multiple sentences assigned to the one offence proven guilty. Where a defendant has multiple sentences, the principal sentence is selected by applying the hierarchy of the Sentence Type Classification (see Appendix 4).


DATA COMPARABILITY

41 The Criminal Courts collection has been designed to facilitate comparisons of states and territories through the application of common national statistical standards. However, some 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.

42 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.

43 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.


CONFIDENTIALITY OF TABULAR DATA

44 A technique has been implemented to avoid identification of individuals. The confidentiality technique applied by the ABS is to randomly adjust cells with very small values. These adjustments do not impair the value of the table as a whole.

45 Tables which have been randomly adjusted will be internally consistent however, comparisons with other tables containing similar data may show minor discrepancies. These small variances can, for the most part, be ignored.


RELATED PUBLICATIONS

ABS publications

46 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
      General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia (cat. no. 4159.5) - 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)
      Sexual Assault Australia: A Statistical Overview (cat. no. 45230.0) - single issue
      Year Book Australia (cat. no. 1301.0) - issued annually

47 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 on this site. 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

48 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, Department of Justice 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 Statistical Research, Crime and Justice Statistics Queensland
      Steering Committee for the Review of Government 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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