4513.0 - Criminal Courts, Australia, 2015-16 Quality Declaration 
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EXPLANATORY NOTES

INTRODUCTION
DATA SOURCE
SCOPE
REFERENCE PERIOD
CLASSIFICATIONS
NATIONAL CRIMINAL COURTS DATA DICTIONARY
COUNTING METHODOLOGY
METHOD OF FINALISATION
PRINCIPAL OFFENCE
PRINCIPAL SENTENCE
SENTENCE LENGTH AND FINE AMOUNT
INDIGENOUS STATUS
COMPARABILITY
COMPARISONS TO OTHER ABS DATA
COMPARISONS TO NON-ABS SOURCES
STATE/TERRITORY EVENTS / SPECIFIC ISSUES
CONFIDENTIALITY OF TABULAR DATA
REVISIONS
RELATED PUBLICATIONS

INTRODUCTION

1 This publication presents information on the characteristics of defendants dealt with by Australian state and territory criminal courts. This includes information on the offences, case outcomes and sentences associated with those defendants.

2 Information relates to the criminal jurisdictions of the Higher (Supreme and Intermediate), Magistrates' and Children's Courts in each state and territory. The criminal jurisdiction of the courts includes the trial and sentencing of persons and organisations charged with criminal offences in Australia.

3 Information relating to criminal cases heard in the Higher Courts is available from 1995. Information about defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Courts is available from 2003–04 and in the Children's Courts from 2006–07.

DATA SOURCE

4 National statistics are derived from data about each defendant provided to the ABS by the state and territory agencies responsible for courts administration. The ABS receives data directly from these agencies in all states and territories except for Queensland (where data are supplied via the Office of the Government Statistician), and New South Wales (where data are supplied via the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research).

5 In order to ensure consistency between the states and territories, jurisdictions are requested to provide data coded according to national classifications and standards. Data are then processed and compiled by the ABS in line with these classifications and standards. For more information see paragraphs 20–58.

SCOPE

6 The scope of the statistics in this publication includes all defendants who have been finalised in the Higher, Magistrates' or Children's Courts during the reference period.

7 The Criminal Courts collection is restricted to counts of defendants finalised, that is, persons or organisations for whom all charges have been formally completed so that they cease to be an item of work to be dealt with by the court.

8 The numbers of defendants finalised can be impacted by the use of diversionary programs initiated by police and other agencies (pre-court) and/or by the courts themselves as part of the court process. Given that an objective of the juvenile justice system is to divert young people away from the more formal justice system, the use of diversionary schemes are likely to be used more often in the Children's Courts. These types of pre-court diversionary programs include (but are not limited to) warnings (both informal and formal), cautions, police drug diversions and conferencing. Successful completion of a diversionary program may mean that these offenders will not appear in court and therefore will not be counted as finalised defendants in the Criminal Courts collection.

9 Programs initiated by the courts are generally grouped into two types: 'pre-adjudication' if initiated prior to hearing the facts of a case; and 'post-adjudication' if initiated once the defendant is found guilty or the defendant has entered a plea of guilty, but prior to sentencing. Referral to a program is also used as a sentencing outcome. Defendants involved in programs initiated by the courts are included in the scope of the collection and are counted when their cases are finalised.

10 The geographic definition of Australia, as used by the ABS, includes 'Other Territories'. In the Criminal Courts data collection, defendants in Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Courts cases heard in the criminal courts on Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island are included in the counts for Western Australia, where applicable. Defendants finalised in Jervis Bay Territory are not included in this publication.

Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Courts

11 There are different levels of courts which deal with different types of matters. There are differences between the states and territories in the way the Higher Courts, Magistrates' Courts and Children's Courts systems are structured. Legislation differs between states and territories regarding which offence types can be heard summarily or otherwise in the Magistrates' or Children's Courts and which offence types must be heard on indictment.

Higher Courts

12 Within the criminal jurisdiction, all states and territories have a Supreme Court that deals with the most serious criminal matters, generally referred to as indictable offences. These offences include murder, manslaughter and drug trafficking as well as serious sexual offences, robberies and assaults. The larger states (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia) also have an intermediate level of court, known as the District Court or County Court, which deals with the majority of serious offences. In this publication, the Supreme Courts and Intermediate Courts are collectively referred to as the Higher Courts.

13 All defendants that are dealt with by the Higher Courts have an automatic entitlement to a trial before a judge and jury. In some states and territories, the defendant may elect to have the matter heard before a judge alone. Children treated as adults by the courts may be included in the Higher Courts collection.

Magistrates' Courts

14 The lowest level of criminal court is the Magistrates’ Court, also known as the Court of Summary Jurisdiction, Local Court or Court of Petty Sessions. The majority of all criminal cases are heard in these courts. Cases heard in the Magistrates’ Courts do not involve a jury as a magistrate determines whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. This is known as a summary proceeding. Children treated as adults by the courts may be included in the Magistrates' Courts collection.

Children's Courts

15 Each state and territory has Children's Courts to deal with offences alleged to have been committed by young people. These courts mainly deal with summary proceedings, however in some jurisdictions they also have the power to hear indictable matters.

16 In all states and territories, children aged under 10 years cannot be charged with a criminal offence. People aged under 18 years at the time the offence was committed are considered a child or juvenile in all states and territories except Queensland. In Queensland, a child or juvenile is aged under 17 years.

Exclusions

17 The Higher, Magistrates' and Children's 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 matters dealt with by civil courts, breach of community-based orders, appeal cases, tribunal matters and defendants for whom a bench warrant is issued but not executed. The ANZSOC codes listed below are currently out of scope of the Criminal Courts collection:

  • 1512 – Breach of Home Detention;
  • 1513 – Breach of Suspended Sentence;
  • 1521 – Breach of Community Service Order;
  • 1522 – Breach of Parole;
  • 1523 – Breach of Bail;
  • 1524 – Breach of Bond – Probation;
  • 1525 – Breach of Bond – Other; and
  • 1529 – Breach of community-based order, n.e.c.

18 The Magistrates' and Children's Courts data exclude finalisations in specialist courts, such as Drug Courts, Electronic Courts, Fine Recovery Units and Indigenous Courts. Defendants referred to these specialist courts from mainstream courts will be included in the mainstream courts data as transfers.

REFERENCE PERIOD

19 The statistics in this collection relate to defendants who had criminal cases finalised within the Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Courts during the reference period 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016.

CLASSIFICATIONS

20 The national classifications used to collect and produce data on defendants in the criminal courts are:
  • Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC) (Appendix 1);
  • Method of finalisation (Appendix 2); and
  • Sentence type (Appendix 3).

21 The classifications provide a framework for organising criminal court information for statistical purposes, and have a hierarchical structure allowing for different levels of detail to be recorded depending on the level of detail available in the source information. Associated with each classification are coding rules which ensure that the counting of information is consistent across states and territories.

Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC)

22 The offence categories used for national Criminal Courts statistics in this publication are classified to the Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC) (cat. no. 1234.0) (see Appendix 1). The first release of this classification was the Australian Standard Offence Classification 1997 (cat. no. 1234.0) (ASOC97). In 2008, the ABS released the second edition of the Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC08), which reflected changes that had occurred in criminal legislation since the first edition was released, as well as satisfying emerging user requirements for offence data. The ASOC was renamed ANZSOC in July 2011 to reflect its adoption in New Zealand. ANZSOC contains the same offence details and classification as ASOC and therefore there were no impacts on the offence data. Information about the effects of changing ASOC97 to ASOC08 is presented in the Technical Note in the 2008–09 issue of this publication.

National Offence Index (NOI)

23 The National Offence Index (NOI) (cat. no.1234.0.55.001) is a ranking of all ANZSOC Groups and supplementary ANZSOC codes (ANZSOC Divisions and/or ANZSOC Subdivisions). This ranking is based on the concept of 'offence seriousness', with a ranking of 1 relating to the ANZSOC code associated with the most serious offence.

24 The first version of NOI was released in 2002. This was superseded by the second version, released in 2009 to accommodate the changes made in ASOC08. Offence information for 2010–11 onwards are based on the 2009 edition of the NOI.

25 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. For example, although some sexual assault and related offences are ranked ahead of illicit drug and related offences, they are unlikely to co-occur.

Method of Finalisation

26 This classification categorises how a defendant has been finalised by a court. Main categories include adjudications, non-adjudications and transfers (see Appendix 2). For more information see paragraphs 32–41.

Sentence Type

27 This classification is used to assign a principal sentence to a defendant who has been proven guilty (see Appendix 3). For more information see paragraphs 47–50.

NATIONAL CRIMINAL COURTS DATA DICTIONARY

28 A data dictionary is an agreed set of classifications and standards that is accepted as the authoritative reference for a particular area of statistics. The National Criminal Courts Data Dictionary, 2006 (cat. no. 4527.0) was 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. The current version of the data dictionary relates to the Higher and Magistrates' Criminal Courts. The National Criminal Courts Data Dictionary can be accessed via the ABS website.

COUNTING METHODOLOGY

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

30 Courts in some jurisdictions operate programs which transfer defendants to drug and other specialist courts for finalisation. These defendants are counted as finalised by transfer in the criminal court level that recommended the transfer. In some instances, defendants may be referred to programs where, upon completion of the program, the defendant returns for finalisation to the court that requested the transfer.

31 Where a person or organisation is a defendant in more than one case, and their cases are finalised on the same date and in the same court level, 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.

METHOD OF FINALISATION

32 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.

33 A bench warrant is not considered a method of finalisation for a defendant in the Higher Courts and has been excluded from counts in this publication.

34 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

35 Defendants who transfer from one Higher Court level to another Higher Court level 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

36 Defendants who transfer from the Magistrates' Court level to the Higher Court level (or vice versa) 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

37 Defendants who transfer between the Children's Courts and the Magistrates' or Higher Courts (or vice versa) are considered to be initiated twice (once in each court level) and finalised twice (once in each court level).

Higher Courts

38 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 by reason of mental illness/condition
  • guilty finding by court
  • charge proven n.f.d.
  • guilty plea by defendant
  • acquitted by court
  • charge unproven n.f.d.
  • charge unproven n.e.c.
  • transfer from a Higher Court to a Magistrates' Court
  • other transfer between court levels n.e.c.
  • transfer to non-court agency
  • withdrawn by the prosecution
  • other non-adjudicated finalisation n.e.c.
  • unknown/not stated.

Magistrates' Courts

39 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 by reason of mental illness/condition
  • guilty finding by court
  • charge proven n.f.d.
  • guilty plea by defendant
  • guilty ex-parte
  • acquitted by court
  • charge unproven n.f.d.
  • no case to answer at committal
  • charge unproven n.e.c.
  • committed for trial
  • transfer from a Magistrates' Court to a Higher Court n.f.d.
  • committed for sentence
  • transfer from a Magistrates' Court to a Higher Court n.e.c.
  • other transfer between court levels n.e.c.
  • transfer to non-court agency
  • withdrawn by the prosecution
  • other non-adjudicated finalisation n.e.c.
  • unknown/not stated.

Children's Courts

40 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:
  • defendant deceased
  • unfit to plead
  • not guilty by reason of mental illness/condition
  • guilty finding by court
  • charge proven n.f.d.
  • guilty plea by defendant
  • guilty ex-parte
  • acquitted by court
  • charge unproven n.f.d.
  • no case to answer at committal
  • charge unproven n.e.c.
  • committed for trial
  • transfer from a Children's Court to a Higher court n.f.d.
  • committed for sentence
  • transfer from a Children's Court to a Higher court n.e.c.
  • transfer from a Children's Court to a Magistrates' Court
  • other transfer between court levels n.e.c.
  • transfer to non-court agency
  • withdrawn by the prosecution
  • other non-adjudicated finalisation n.e.c.
  • unknown/not stated.

41 Defendants with a principal offence of Homicide and related offences, Robbery, extortion and related offences or Sexual assault and related offences are more likely to be transferred from the Magistrates' Court to the Higher Court than defendants for other offences, and are therefore more likely to have a method of finalisation of a transfer. The high proportion of transfers for these offences should be taken into consideration when interpreting data by method of finalisation as it may impact on the proportion of defendants proven guilty for these offences.

PRINCIPAL OFFENCE

42 Prior to 2007–08, principal offence was only calculated for those defendants whose charges were adjudicated. Since 2008–09, principal offence rules have been extended to include defendants whose charges were non-adjudicated or transferred to another court level. This means that principal offence data are available for all finalised defendants.

43 Where a finalised defendant has multiple charges the principal offence is determined by:
  • the type of finalisation; and/or
  • the highest ranked ANZSOC using the NOI (see paragraphs 23–25).

44 The type of finalisation is considered in the following order:
  • defendant deceased, unfit to plead, or not guilty by reason of mental illness
  • charges proven
  • charges not proven
  • transfer of charges
  • charges withdrawn
  • other non-adjudicated finalisation
  • unknown/not stated.

45 Where a defendant has a single charge within the type of finalisation (e.g. charges proven, charges not proven, transfer of charges, etc.), the principal offence is the relevant ANZSOC code (see paragraph 22) associated with that charge.

46 Where a defendant has multiple charges, each with the same method of finalisation (e.g. the defendant has been found guilty of all charges), the NOI is used to determine the principal offence. The principal offence is determined as the charge with the highest ranked ANZSOC Group in the NOI. Where the defendant has an offence that is unable to be determined via the NOI (due to missing offence information or the offence is mapped to an ANZSOC code that is not included in the NOI), and this offence cannot be determined as more or less serious than another offence within the same type of finalisation, the principal offence is coded to 'not able to be determined'.

PRINCIPAL SENTENCE

47 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.

48 Where a defendant has multiple sentences, the principal sentence is selected by applying the hierarchy of the Sentence Type classification (see Appendix 3).

49 It should be noted that not all sentence types are available to magistrates and judges in all jurisdictions. For example, in the Higher Courts, all states and territories with the exception of Western Australia have provision for the use of partially suspended imprisonment sentences. Whether a sentencing option is available in a particular state/territory and court level should be considered when making comparisons.

50 Defendants with a method of finalisation of 'not guilty by reason of mental illness/condition' (an acquitted outcome) may have a specific kind of sentence or order imposed on them by the court. However, these sentences are not within the scope of Criminal Courts statistics as the definition of principal sentence, for the purpose of this collection, is that it only applies to defendants with a method of finalisation of proven guilty.

SENTENCE LENGTH AND FINE AMOUNT

Principal sentence length or fine amount

51 The principal sentence length or fine amount is the largest value associated with the principal sentence. Where there is more than one length or amount imposed for the same principal sentence type, the largest value is selected. A sentence imposed may relate to more than one offence, therefore the sentence length or amount may also refer to more than one offence. This is known as multi-offence or global sentencing. The ABS is developing methods to identify such instances as this is likely to have the effect of inflating the sentence length or amount.

52 Concurrent sentences (those which commence at the same time) or cumulative sentences (which are served one after the other) may be imposed when a defendant has committed multiple offences. Regardless of whether the sentences for a defendant are served concurrently or cumulatively, the length or amount selected is the largest value associated with the principal sentence.

53 A non-parole period is the minimum amount of time that a prisoner will be kept imprisoned before being eligible to be released on parole. Specific offences may have a legislated non-parole period, referred to as a 'minimum sentence'. The sentence length presented in this publication refers to the total period of the sentence imposed by the courts, not the 'minimum sentence'.

54 Life and indeterminate sentences are the most serious forms of imprisonment. Defendants sentenced to life imprisonment may not necessarily be imprisoned for the term of their natural life but may serve a minimum time as specified by the court or by an administrative body such as a Parole Board. Indeterminate sentences do not have a prescribed minimum term to serve and may be subject to a ministerial or other administrative decision as to the actual sentence length served. Therefore these types of imprisonment do not necessarily have an associated sentence length and defendants with this principal sentence have been excluded from custodial sentence length statistics. The number of defendants sentenced to life and indeterminate imprisonment (48 in 2015–16) accounts for less than 1% of all defendants sentenced to custody in a correctional institution.

DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY, Life and indeterminate imprisonment, States and territories, 2011–12 to 2015–16
NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
ACT
Aust.

2011–12
0
3
15
12
9
0
3
0
43
2012–13
0
0
21
20
20
0
7
0
58
2013–14
3
0
20
11
17
0
3
0
58
2014–15
3
0
15
15
24
0
3
0
56
2015–16
0
3
13
7
19
0
4
0
48


55 A defendant sentenced to imprisonment with a partially suspended term must be detained in prison for part of the specified term of the sentence, with the remainder of the term suspended on the condition that the defendant will be of good behaviour. Due to variability in the recording practices of states and territories for this sentence type, sentence length data for defendants with this principal sentence were not published for 2010–11 and 2011–12 and were excluded from custodial sentence length statistics for these years. This sentence type accounted for 9% of defendants sentenced to custody in a correctional institution in 2010–11 and 10% in 2011–12. Sentence length data for partially suspended sentences have been published from 2012–13.

56 Periodic detention is included in data for custody in a correctional institution and refers to the total term over which the order is to be completed, not the actual time served in custody. This sentence type is only currently applicable in the Australian Capital Territory and there have been amendments to the legislation that mean it ceased to be a sentencing option beyond June 2016.

Principal proven offence

57 For sentence length data, the offence information presented relates to principal proven offence. The principal proven offence for a defendant is derived by determining the most serious sentence type (the principal sentence), and then selecting the offence type that directly resulted in this penalty. In situations where several sentences of equal seriousness are imposed, the principal proven offence derivation takes into account the length or monetary amount of the sentence, and if necessary, the seriousness of the offence, for example:
  • If a defendant is given two sentences of equal seriousness, the one with the longer sentence length or greater monetary amount is selected and the offence associated with this specific sentence will be designated as principal proven offence.
  • If a defendant is given two sentences of equal seriousness and the length or monetary amount of each sentence is equal, the principal proven offence is determined according to the seriousness of the offence using the NOI (see paragraphs 23–25).

Principal proven offence compared with principal offence

58 The principal proven offence associated with sentence length can differ from the principal offence used to present offence data for defendant counts. Principal proven offence is determined by the principal sentence for a defendant, whereas the principal offence is determined independently of principal sentence (see paragraphs 42–46). These two items will differ when the most serious offence proven guilty does not incur the most serious and largest sentence.

Image: visual representation of the differences between the Principal offence and the Principal proven offence for a defendant, as described in paragraphs 57 and 58.

INDIGENOUS STATUS

59 This publication presents data on the Indigenous status of defendants finalised in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory. Based on ABS assessment, Indigenous status data for defendants in other jurisdictions are not of sufficient quality and/or do not meet ABS standards for self-identification for national reporting in 2015-16. Further work is underway to improve the quality of the Indigenous status data for the Criminal Courts collection.

60 Indigenous status is based on self-identification by the individual who comes into contact with police. The quality of the data is dependent on police asking individuals to self-identify and responses being recorded on police systems. Where individuals are not able to provide an answer for themselves, jurisdictions may accept a response where a next of kin/guardian provides the information. Further, this information then needs to be transferred from police systems to the courts when the defendant is initiated in the courts.

61 The majority of defendants with a traffic offence as their principal offence have an unknown Indigenous status recorded. This is because most traffic offences are related to fines issued by road traffic authorities where it is usually not possible to ask an individual their Indigenous status. Defendants with traffic offences have a large impact on the proportion of unknowns in the data, therefore they have been removed from Criminal Courts statistics relating to Indigenous status. This is to enable a focus on those defendants that are more likely to have been in contact with police and therefore would be more likely to have had their Indigenous status recorded.

62 Other offence categories that may be actioned by prosecuting agencies other than police that may also be affected by this issue are: public order, offences against justice, and miscellaneous offences. This should be taken into account when comparing data for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous defendants for these offence categories.

COMPARABILITY

63 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. Data for the collection are extracted from systems used to administer court business and therefore it may not be possible for states and territories to align with the national standards for some data items. Additionally, 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. Refer to paragraphs 72–99 for specific state and territory issues.

COMPARISONS TO OTHER ABS DATA

Recorded Crime – Offenders

64 Data relating to the number of court initiated police proceedings sourced from the Recorded Crime – Offenders collection are not strictly comparable to the number of defendants in the Criminal Courts collection. Not all court related actions initiated by police will proceed to a criminal court as police proceedings may be withdrawn or changed to other legal actions by police during the course of an investigation. Furthermore, a defendant appearing in a criminal court may be prosecuted via charges initiated by authorities other than police. There will also be lags between when the police initiate action via a court method of proceeding and when a criminal court finalises a defendant's case. For more information about offenders recorded by police, refer to Recorded Crime – Offenders, Australia (cat. no. 4519.0).

COMPARISONS TO NON-ABS SOURCES

65 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.

Report on Government Services

66 The Report on Government Services (RoGS), commissioned by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), was established to provide information on the performance of Australian and state and territory government services. The RoGS publishes data annually on the efficiency and effectiveness of the administration of the courts, sourcing data from court authorities and departments on a financial year basis.

67 The focus of the Courts chapter in the RoGS is on the administration of the courts, including workload indicators and financial information, not on judicial decisions made in the courts. In contrast, the ABS Criminal Courts collection has a social theme, painting a picture of the characteristics of finalised defendants, including information on the offences and sentence types associated with those defendants. Whilst the classifications and standards for both collections are the same, some of the counting rules are different which result in different defendant counts.

Finalised defendant

68 For both collections the finalised defendant is defined as follows: 'A person or organisation for whom all charges relating to the one case have been formally completed so that the defendant ceases to be an active item of work to be dealt with by the courts'. However, the number of defendants will vary between the ABS and RoGS collections as in the ABS collection data are further aggregated to create a 'merged finalised defendant'. The rule used in the ABS collection is: if a defendant has more than one case, which is finalised on the same date in the same court level, their defendant records will be merged and counted as a single defendant record. The RoGS counts both lodgments and finalisations and defines a defendant as: ‘one defendant with one or more charges and with all charges having the same date of registration’. This can result in a lower count of defendants finalised in the ABS collection than in the RoGS collection.

Transfers between intermediate and supreme court levels

69 Further differences exist as a result of different counting rules for the transfer of defendants for some court levels. The RoGS counts defendants who transfer between Higher Court levels (e.g. from an Intermediate Court to a Supreme Court) as finalised in both the court level they left (as they cease to be an active unit of work for that court level) and finalised in the new court level they entered once all charges are dealt with at that court level. For the purposes of the ABS Criminal Courts collection, defendants who transfer from one Higher Court level to another are considered as finalised only once (from the level they finally left). As a result, the combined Intermediate and Supreme court finalisations data in the RoGS will be higher than the ABS Higher Courts data.

Duration and backlog

70 The ABS Criminal Courts collection calculates duration for a defendant as the time taken in days from the date of initiation to the date of finalisation of the defendant's case as follows:

Duration = Date of finalisation – Date of initiation + 1

71 The RoGS does not report on the duration of matters. Since 2004, the RoGS has reported the backlog in a court's workload, measured as a percentage of the pending caseload at 30 June which is older than nominated time standards. The formula used is as follows:

Number of pending cases at 30 June older than applicable reporting standard
X 100
Total pending case load at 30 June

STATE/TERRITORY EVENTS / SPECIFIC ISSUES

72 The following information highlights events or processes unique to a state/territory that may have an impact on the data for this collection. This may include information on recording practices and changes to legislation supplied by each state/territory.

New South Wales

73 Duration from initiation to finalisation data for New South Wales Magistrates' and Children's Courts are based on the date of first appearance rather than the date of registration. New South Wales is unable to provide the date of registration as it is not captured in the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research's system, the system used to provide NSW Courts data to the ABS. This may impact on Duration from initiation to finalisation data and therefore caution should be used when making comparisons across states and territories. This does not impact on Duration from initiation to finalisation data for Higher Courts.

74 Sentence length for Fully suspended sentences is provided as the period over which the defendant must maintain good behaviour (i.e. the bond/recognizance duration) not the length of the imprisonment order that was suspended. This does not impact on Fully suspended sentences imposed under state legislation as the period of the bond should not exceed the term of imprisonment which was suspended as per the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999. However, for Fully suspended sentences imposed under federal legislation it is possible for the bond to exceed the length of the imprisonment order under the Commonwealth Crimes Act. This impacts an estimated one-third of Fully suspended sentences imposed for federal offences.

75 New South Wales legislation does not contain discrete offences of stalking, intimidation and harassment. As these offences cannot be disaggregated, defendants charged with stalking, intimidation and harassment have been coded to ANZSOC offence group 0291 (Stalking). From 2008–09, this group may therefore be overstated and 05 (Abduction, harassment and other offences against the person) may be understated. Caution should be used when making comparisons with other states and territories.

76 There was an under count in the number of finalised defendants in 2012–13 for New South Wales. The defendants excluded from the count were limited to those finalised in June 2013 in the Magistrates' Court. The majority of these defendants were issued a Fine. The under count is estimated to account for less than 1% of finalised defendants for the 2012–13 reference period.

77 From late 2012, Workplace Health and Safety prosecutions previously dealt with by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission are now dealt with by the NSW District Court. Proven prosecutions may result in fines in the order of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. With an increasing number of these prosecutions finalised in the Higher Courts between 2013–14 and 2014–15, mean and median fine amounts have been notably high for Miscellaneous offences and Total offences in the Higher Courts in 2014–15 and 2015–16 for New South Wales.

78 There was an over count in the number of finalised defendants in 2014–15 for New South Wales. This was due to the inclusion of defendants prosecuted under the Bail Act 1978 for 'fail to appear' offences which are out of scope of the Criminal Courts collection. These defendants appear in the publication with a principal offence of ANZSOC 156 Offences against justice procedures. The over count is estimated to account for less than 1% of finalised defendants for the 2014–15 reference period.

Victoria

79 For 2011–12, there was a change in the treatment of Victorian defendants finalised by transfer to a diversionary program, such as the Ropes Program. For 2011–12 only, they were coded to a method of finalisation of Other non-adjudicated finalisations n.e.c. As the diversionary programs require the defendants to acknowledge responsibility for the offence, for 2012–13 the majority of these defendants were assigned a Method of finalisation of Proven guilty and a Sentence type of a Good behaviour bond. In 2013–14, it was determined that a Nominal penalty was a better reflection of the actual penalty imposed on defendants completing a diversionary program, for example writing a letter of apology to the victim or a letter of thanks to the police or agency involved. This change has led to a decrease in the number of defendants with a Principal sentence of a Good behaviour bond and an increase in those with a Principal sentence of a Nominal penalty. Caution should therefore be used when making historical comparisons of Method of finalisation and Principal sentence data.

80 In January 2012, changes to the Sentencing Act removed the Victorian Court's ability to impose the following sentences: community-based orders, intensive corrections orders, combined custody and treatment orders or home detention orders. These were replaced by a new Community Correction Order (CCO) which can contain a number of conditions. In 2012–13, the order was mapped to Community service orders, even though not all instances required unpaid community work. In 2013–14, Victoria provided all components of these orders with each condition mapped to a corresponding sentence in the ABS Sentence type classification. This allowed the ABS to derive one of these components as the Principal sentence. This change in reporting has resulted in an initial decrease in the number of defendants with a Principal sentence of Community service orders and an increase in those with Intensive corrections orders, Probation orders and Treatment orders. However, the principal sentence for the majority (around two-thirds) of defendants sentenced to a CCO continues to be derived as a Community service order. As only one component of the CCO is selected as the Principal sentence, it may still not be reflective of the actual order imposed. Caution should therefore be used when interpreting Principal sentence data for Victoria and making historical comparisons.

81 Suspended sentences ceased to be a sentencing option in Victoria for offences committed after 1 September 2013 in the County and Supreme Court, and 1 September 2014 in the Magistrates’ Court. In cases that would previously have attracted a suspended sentence, sentencing judges and magistrates would most likely impose immediate imprisonment, a Community Correction Order or a fine, or a combination of all three. A Community Correction Order or other non-custodial sentence may be imposed in cases where the court considers immediate custody unnecessary to fulfil the purposes for which the sentence is imposed. This has resulted in a decrease in suspended sentences as the principal sentence in 2014–15 and increases in other types of principal sentences including community supervision or work orders. Caution should therefore be used when making historical comparisons.

82 For 2014–15, there were inconsistencies in the recording of sentence length for defendants sentenced to home detention in the Magistrates’ Courts. This has resulted in an over count of 10 defendants with a sentence length of less than 3 months and an under count of 10 defendants with a sentence length of one year or more. There was no impact on the total number of finalised defendants.

Queensland

83 In February 2011, criminal infringement notices were implemented by police for some public order and traffic offences, including urinating in a public place and consumption of alcohol in a public place. These on-the-spot fines aim to deter street and traffic offences by way of an immediate consequence to the offender. This resulted in a decrease in the overall defendant population in Queensland and contributed to decreases in ANZSOC Division 13 (Public order offences) and Division 14 (Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences) from 2010–11.

84 For 2014–15, Queensland provided data for defendants who had been finalised as Guilty ex-parte for the first time. Previous to 2014–15, these defendants were reported in the ABS Criminal Courts data as being finalised either as Guilty plea by defendant or Guilty finding by court and therefore these methods of finalisation were overstated. In 2015–16, it was identified that not all defendants finalised as Guilty ex-parte in 2014–15 were flagged in the extract provided to the ABS and therefore the numbers reported in the 2014–15 publication were understated. As such, data for Guilty plea by defendant, Guilty finding by court and Guilty ex-parte as presented in previous issues of this publication are unreliable and should not be used. In this issue of the publication, numbers for defendants finalised as proven guilty are presented at the aggregate level only for all years.

South Australia

85 For 2013–14, South Australia changed the way they provided sentence length data for partially and fully suspended sentences, bringing these data in line with national reporting requirements. For partially suspended sentences, the sentence length now reflects the entire length of the sentence, ie. both the imprisonment and suspended portions, where previously only the imprisonment portion was provided. This has resulted in an increase in sentence length for partially suspended sentences. For fully suspended sentences, the sentence quantum now reflects the sentence that was suspended and not the good behaviour bond period provided previously. This has resulted in a decrease in sentence length for fully suspended sentences. Caution should therefore be used when making historical comparisons for these sentence types.

86 The Statutes Amendments (Fines Enforcement and Recovery) Act 2013 came into effect on 3 February 2014. As a result, the responsibility of the collection and enforcement of fines has been transferred from the Courts Administration Authority to a new body called the Fines Enforcement and Recovery Unit managed by the South Australian Attorney-General’s Department. This new unit processes all expiation notices, collection and enforcement of Court fines and applications to remove enforcement fees. The introduction of the new unit and process changes to the management of outstanding expiation notices has contributed to the decrease in the number of finalised defendants in South Australia for 2014–15 and 2015–16, due to these fines no longer being included in the criminal courts collection. In particular, there have been notable decreases in the number of defendants finalised with a method of finalisation of guilty ex-parte, principal offence of Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences, and principal sentence of a fine. Caution should therefore be used when making historical comparisons.

Western Australia

87 The jurisdiction of the Children's Court in Western Australia allows magistrates to hear all offences, whether indictable or summary, and to apply both adult and juvenile penalties. The President of the Children's Court is a judge with the same powers as a Supreme Court judge with regard to sentencing and therefore can deal with all offences.

88 For 2012–13, changes were made to the reporting procedures for compound (or complex) sentencing options in Western Australia. Compound sentences are Community Based Orders which comprise several components: curfew, supervision (probation), community work or a programme condition. Compound sentences have been in place in Western Australia since 1995 and have previously been mapped by Western Australia to the standard ABS Sentence type classification in order to conform with national standards. The ‘Intensive Supervision Orders’, both adult and juvenile, were coded to ‘Community Work’ and the less intensive ‘Community Based Orders’, adult and juvenile, were coded to ‘Probation’. In 2012–13, Western Australia provided all components of compound sentences so that a Principal sentence could be derived within the ABS processing system. This change in reporting has resulted in an increase in the number of defendants with a Principal sentence of Community Service Orders and a decrease in those with Probation orders. The Principal sentence for around half of defendants sentenced to a Community Based Orders is derived as a Community service order with a further one-third derived as a Probation order. As only one component of the Community Based Order is selected as the Principal sentence, it may still not be reflective of the actual order imposed. Caution should therefore be used in comparing Principal sentence data from 2012–13 onwards with previous years.

89 In November 2013, Western Australia's Magistrates' and Children's Courts data were migrated to the Integrated Court Management System (ICMS). Data entry and extraction procedures on the ICMS vary from those of the previous recording system. The expansion of outcome categories within the ICMS system enables greater accuracy in identifying defendants who were proven guilty ex-parte, acquitted by the court, transferred or had their case withdrawn by the prosecution. Given these changes to the system, as well as an adjustment period for courts staff during the transition, there has been an impact on several data items, most notably Method of finalisation. Caution should therefore be used when making historical comparisons for these Methods of finalisation.

90 For 2013–14 onwards, Western Australia changed the way they provided Date of initiation data for the Magistrates' and Children's Courts. Previously, the date of first appearance was provided rather than the date of registration. In 2013–14, Western Australia provided the date of registration, bringing it in line with national reporting requirements. This change resulted in an increase of 5 and 4 weeks in the median Duration from initiation to finalisation for Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts respectively in 2013–14. In 2015–16, changes in recording practices may have further impacted on duration. In ICMS, for some cases where there is an initial sentence handed down, such as a licence disqualification, and the case is adjourned until sentencing at a later date, the date of finalisation is recorded as the date this initial sentence was handed down. While every effort has been made to extract the actual date of finalisation, there may be some cases where this was not possible. Additionally, Police are now required to lodge cases electronically rather than manually, impacting on the date of registration. These changes may have contributed to increases in Duration from initiation to finalisation for the Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts in 2015–16. Caution should therefore be used when making historical comparisons, or comparing historical data with other states and territories.

Tasmania

91 Sentence length and fine data are unavailable for the Tasmanian Higher Courts. Sentence length data are also unavailable for Good behaviour bonds for Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Courts.

92 During 2014–15 and 2015–16, a number of archival cases were officially closed off in the Tasmanian Magistrates' Court system. These defendants were finalised as "Charges unproven not elsewhere classified" and appear in the data in this publication as Acquitted. The closure of these cases has also resulted in an increase in the mean and median duration from initiation to finalisation. Caution should therefore be used when making historical comparisons.

Northern Territory

93 Duration from initiation to finalisation data for the Northern Territory Magistrates' and Children's Courts are based on the date of first appearance rather than the date of registration. The Northern Territory is unable to provide the date of registration as it is not captured in their systems. This may impact on Duration from initiation to finalisation data and therefore caution should be used when making comparisons across states and territories. This does not impact on Duration from initiation to finalisation data for Higher Courts.

94 For 2011–12, there was an over count in the number of finalised defendants reported by the Northern Territory in the ABS Criminal Courts collection. It is estimated that there was an over count of 676 defendants, accounting for 7% of all defendants finalised in the Northern Territory as reported in the 2011–12 ABS Criminal Courts collection. The majority of the over count related to defendants who were withdrawn by the prosecution, and to a lesser degree, defendants who were acquitted. The Northern Territory's courts administration system is live and therefore subject to continuous updates. It is therefore increasingly difficult to replicate the data for a previous reference period as more time elapses. For this reason, it has been decided not to revise the 2011–12 data in the ABS Criminal Courts collection. Caution should be used when analysing 2011–12 data for the Northern Territory and making comparisons with other years, and also across other states and territories.

95 From 2011–12, there was a change in practice in the Magistrates' Courts, resulting in an increase in Guilty ex-parte finalisations. In 2012, Magistrates started to hear minor matters ex-parte (instead of issuing bench warrants) if the defendant did not appear for the court hearing. Caution should be used when making historical comparisons.

96 In 2011–12 and 2012–13, a joint project between the NT Department of the Attorney-General and Justice and Police to close historic outstanding warrants and summons matters resulted in an increase in the number of finalisations. Other impacts include increases in the duration of cases; increases in the number of cases withdrawn by the prosecution; and increases in the numbers of defendants with unknown Indigenous status. Caution should be used when making historical comparisons.

97 For 2013–14, there were inconsistencies in the recording of suspended sentence data in the Magistrates' and Children's Courts whereby a small number of defendants were coded to a Fully suspended sentence rather than a Partially suspended sentence. The 33 defendants affected were those who were sentenced to an imprisonment sentence and held in custody to 'rising of the Court', therefore serving time in custody. This has resulted in an over count of 33 defendants in the number with a Principal sentence of Fully suspended sentence (1,093 defendants) and an under count of 33 defendants in the number with a Principal sentence of Partially suspended sentence (648 defendants). There was no impact on the total number of finalised defendants.

Australian Capital Territory

98 In 2014–15, amendments were made to the way some local offence descriptions are coded to the ANZSOC offence classification for the Australian Capital Territory's Criminal Courts data. Changes were made to improve comparability in the recording of offence data across the states and territories. These amendments to ANZSOC coding for the Australian Capital Territory have impacted on the number of defendants with a principal offence in ANZSOC Division 01 Homicide and related offences, most notably resulting from a change in the treatment of offences previously coded to ANZSOC Group 0132 Driving causing death where the offence did not result in a fatality. These offences are now being coded to ANZSOC Group 0412 Dangerous or negligent operation (driving) of a vehicle. Therefore, caution should be used when making historical comparisons for these ANZSOC divisions.

99 Due to difficulties associated with extracting sentence length data from the Australian Capital Territory Law Courts and Tribunal Management system, the data have to be extracted and aggregated manually. While every effort has been made to ensure sentence length data are accurate, there may be some cases where the actual sentence length was not able to be completely extracted. Therefore data as reported in the Criminal Courts collection may be over or understated. Note that this variability will also be impacted by the small number of defendants finalised in some court levels for some sentence types for this jurisdiction. Caution should therefore be used when analysing sentence length data for the Australian Capital Territory.

CONFIDENTIALITY OF TABULAR DATA

100 The Census and Statistics Act 1905 provides the authority for the ABS to collect statistical information, and requires that statistical output shall not be published or disseminated in a manner that is likely to enable the identification of a particular person or organisation. The requirement means that the ABS must ensure that any statistical information about individuals cannot be derived from published data. To minimise the risk of identifying individuals in aggregate statistics, a technique is used to randomly adjust cell values and summary variables. This technique is called perturbation and was applied to the Criminal Courts collection for the first time for the 2013–14 reference period. Perturbation involves small random adjustment of the statistics and is considered the most satisfactory technique for avoiding the release of identifiable statistics while maximising the range of information that can be released. These adjustments have a negligible impact on the underlying pattern of the statistics.

101 After perturbation, a given published cell value will be consistent across all tables. However, the sum of the components of a total will not necessarily give the same result as the published total in a particular table. As such, proportions may add to more or less than 100%. Readers are advised to use the published totals rather than deriving totals based on the component cells. Cells with small values may be proportionally more affected by perturbation than large values. Users are advised against conducting analyses and drawing conclusions based on small values.

102 Perturbation has been applied to all data presented in this publication (excluding the experimental FDV datacube) as well as data in the Criminal Courts collection from 2008–09 onwards. Previous to the 2013–14 reference period, a different technique was used to confidentialise the data and therefore there may be small differences between historical data presented in the 2013–14 issue onwards and those published in previous issues.

REVISIONS

103 In 2015–16, a review of offences coded to ANZSOC 0411 Driving under the influence of alcohol or other substance revealed inconsistencies in coding in some jurisdictions. As a consequence, data for 2014–15 have been revised for some jurisdictions. Specifically, defendants charged with various offences relating to driving with a prescribed concentration of alcohol and/or drugs in oral fluid or blood where it does not specifically mention that the defendant was driving dangerously or impaired, have been recoded from 0411 Driving under the influence of alcohol or other substance (within Division 4 Dangerous and negligent acts endangering persons) to 1431 Exceeding the prescribed content of alcohol or other substance limit (within Division 14 Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences). Legislation that has been recoded comprises:
  • for Victoria, Sections 49.1.BB, 49.1.BC, 49.1.H, 49.1.I and 49.1.J of the Road Safety Act 1986;
  • for Queensland, Section 79(2AA) of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995; and
  • for Western Australia, Section 64AC of the Road Traffic Act 1974.

104 Nationally, this has resulted in the number of defendants with a principal offence of ANZSOC 0411 being revised down from 15,997 to 10,922, and the number with a principal offence of ANZSOC 1431 being revised up from 56,542 to 61,135 in 2014–15. Note that the increase in ANZSOC 1431 does not directly equate to the decrease in ANZSOC 0411 due to the fact that some defendants may have been finalised for one or more other offences that appeared between ANZSOCs 0411 and 1431 on the NOI which has resulted in the derivation of a different principal offence. Given the number of offences under the legislation listed above were notably less pre-2014–15, historical data were not revised; however, caution should still be used when making historical comparisons.

RELATED PUBLICATIONS

ABS publications

105 Current publications and other products released by the ABS are listed on the ABS website. The ABS also issues a daily Release Advice on the website which details products to be released in the week ahead. For a listing of ABS publications relating to crime and justice statistics, refer to the Related Information tab.

Non-ABS publications

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