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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.
NATIONAL CRIMINAL COURTS DATA DICTIONARY
23 A data dictionary is an agreed set of classifications and standards that is accepted as the authoritative source for a particular area of statistics. The National Criminal Courts Data Dictionary, Version 1 has been developed by the National Criminal Courts Statistics Unit (NCCSU) of the ABS in collaboration with key stakeholders. It is a reference document which defines national data items and outlines methods for the use of 27 data elements and concepts that underpin the ABS and Council of Australian Governments (COAG) criminal courts collections. Version 1 of the data dictionary relates to the Higher and Magistrates' Criminal Courts and it is anticipated that Version 2 will extend the scope of the data dictionary to the Children's Criminal Courts. The National Criminal Courts Data Dictionary can be accessed in the Statistical References section of the National Statistical Service web site <http://www.nss.gov.au>.
Method of finalisation
24 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 Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Courts.
25 Prior to 2002-03, 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 is treated as a continuation of a case and will impact the duration of a case i.e. date from initiation to finalisation. This aligns with the Magistrates' Courts and Children's Courts collections which do not include a bench warrant issued as a method of finalisation. Once a bench warrant has been executed, the defendant is regarded as being finalised (by a method of finalisation other than a bench warrant being issued) and is included in data for the relevant reference period in which the defendant is finalised.
26 Defendants who are referred to a Mental Health Review Tribunal (e.g. for determination of fitness for trial) are not considered to be finalised.
Transfer between Higher Court levels
27 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
28 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.
Transfers between the Children's Courts and the Magistrates' or Higher Courts
29 Defendants who transfer between the Children's Courts and the Magistrates' or Higher Courts are considered to be initiated and finalised in each court level where they appear.
30 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:
31 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:
32 Where a defendant finalised in a Children's 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:
Merging counting units
33 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 the Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Courts.
Principal offence adjudicated
34 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.
35 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.
36 Where a defendant has a single proven guilty or acquitted charge, the principal offence is the relevant ASOC code (see paragraphs 38-39) associated with the adjudicated charge.
37 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 40). 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 that is not included in the Index) the principal offence is coded to 'not able to be determined'.
Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC)
38 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.
39 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)
40 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 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.
41 The assumptions and rules underpinning the NOI, in particular defining 'offence seriousness' and the 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 42). 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).
42 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.
43 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 5).
44 The Criminal Courts collection has been designed to facilitate comparisons over time and across 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.
45 To ensure that the statistics are as reliable as possible, the ABS has employed a number of measures. A range of edit checks identify data that may contain errors 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.
46 Data quality control checks will continue to be reviewed and modified. Data availability and quality will also improve as the states and territories further develop and improve their court operational systems.
47 Reporting of uniform data in relation to the criminal courts in Australia is also enabled by the National Criminal Courts Data Dictionary.
CONFIDENTIALITY OF TABULAR DATA
48 Table cells containing small values have been randomly adjusted to avoid releasing confidential information.
49 The Children's 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 therefore labelled as 'experimental'.
50 It is expected that the implementation of new information systems in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory will facilitate a national Children's Court dataset for the 2006-07 reference period.
51 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. 4159.0) - irregular
Information Paper: Measuring Crime Victimisation, Australia: The Impact of Different Collection Methodologies (cat. no. 4522.0.55.001) - single issue
Information Paper: National Information Development Plan for Crime and Justice Statistics 2005 (cat. no. 4520.0) - single issue
Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics (cat. no. 4160.0) - irregular
Measures of Australia's Progress (cat. no. 1370.0) - issued annually
National Criminal Courts Data Dictionary, Version 1 - available from <http://www.nss.gov.au>
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 in Australia: A Statistical Overview (cat. no. 4523.0) - single issue
Year Book Australia (cat. no. 1301.0) - issued annually
52 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 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 web site. The Centre can be contacted by email through <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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