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4513.0 - Criminal Courts, Australia, 2004-05  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/01/2006   
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5/4/2007
The 2004-05 Magistrates' and Higher Criminal Courts data have been revised for Queensland, Northern Territory and Australia.

Queensland Higher and Magistrates' Courts data are revised due to the identification of an undercount in finalised defendants in 2004-05, corrections to the application of national counting rules and updates to local offence code mappings to the Australia Standard Offence Classification (ASOC). Data has been revised for Northern Territory Higher and Magistrates' Courts due to corrections to the application of national counting rules. These changes for Queensland and Northern Territory data have resulted in revisions to Australian totals for 2004-05 data. Caution should be taken when making historical comparisons of these data.

3/3/2006
Additional Excel workbook containing a total of 6 tables being data cubes to the publication Criminal Courts, Australia, 2004-05 (cat. no. 4513.0), released on 25 January 2006. Data in each table are available for Higher and Magistrates' Courts.


NOTES


ABOUT THIS PUBLICATION

This publication presents nationally comparable statistics relating to the criminal jurisdiction of the Higher (Supreme and Intermediate) and Magistrates' Courts across Australia for the period 1 July 2004-30 June 2005. Children's Criminal Courts data are also provided on an experimental basis. The statistics describe the characteristics of defendants, including information on the offences and sentences associated with those defendants.


DATA CONSISTENCY

The statistics are sourced from the national Criminal Courts collection conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and have been compiled according to national standards in order to maximise consistency between the states and territories. The Explanatory Notes, Appendices and Glossary provide detailed information on the data sources, counting rules, terminology, classifications and other technical aspects associated with these statistics.


CHANGES IN THIS ISSUE

For the first time, data on the characteristics of defendants finalised in the Children's Criminal Courts are included in this publication. Currently, incomplete coverage and data quality issues, mean that these tables are experimental. While they should be used with some caution, they provide useful information on this part of the Criminal Court system. They are included in Appendix 1. The ABS is progressively resolving issues associated with data availability and quality with the data providers.

A number of changes have been made to the tables included in the publication from the 2003-04 issue. These changes have been made to reduce the complexity of the publication and include the removal of some age and sex information. Data removed from the publication has been included in additional tables available on the ABS Website <http://www.abs.gov.au>.


INFORMATION ON ABS CRIME AND JUSTICE

Information about ABS activities in the field of crime and justice statistics is available from the Crime and Justice theme page on the ABS Website. Details of other ABS publications relating to crime and justice statistics can be found in paragraph 51 of the Explanatory Notes.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The ABS acknowledges the valuable contribution of the Board of Management, the National Criminal Courts Statistics Advisory Group, the Court Practitioners' Group and the staff of the various agencies that provide the statistics presented in this publication.


INQUIRIES

For further information about these and related statistics, contact the National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070 or Marika Woodberry on Melbourne (03) 9615 7601.


SUMMARY OF FINDINGS


INTRODUCTION

This publication presents statistics relating to the criminal jurisdiction of the Higher (Supreme and Intermediate) and Magistrates' Courts of Australia, for the period 1 July 2004 - 30 June 2005. Experimental data are also available for Children's Courts in Appendix 1. The criminal jurisdiction of the courts includes the trial and sentencing of persons and organisations charged with criminal offences. The statistics are based on data extracted from administrative records held by state and territory agencies responsible for courts administration. Data are supplied to the ABS by the responsible agency for all states and territories except for Queensland (where they are supplied via the Office of Economic and Statistical Research), and New South Wales (where they are supplied via the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research).

The publication provides a picture of the characteristics of defendants dealt with by the Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Courts of Australia, including information on the offences and sentence types associated with those defendants.

There are significant differences between the states and territories in the way the Higher Courts and Magistrates' Courts systems are structured and how criminal cases are allocated between court levels. For example, legislation differs between states and territories regarding which offence types can be heard summarily in the Magistrates' Courts and which offence types must be indicted to a Higher Court. Caution should therefore be taken when making comparisons between states and territories.

The Explanatory Notes provide detailed information on the data sources, definitions, counting rules and other technical matters associated with this publication.


CHARACTERISTICS OF DEFENDANTS

Summary

In 2004-05, there were 573,949 defendants finalised in the Higher and Magistrates' Courts in Australia. Of these, 3% (16,523) were finalised in the Higher Courts and 97% (557,426) were finalised in the Magistrates' Courts.

Higher Courts

The number of defendants finalised in the Higher Courts decreased by 5% from 17,315 in 2003-04 to 16,523 in 2004-05.


DEFENDANTS FINALISED(a), HIGHER COURTS
Graph: DEFENDANTS FINALISED, HIGHER COURTS


Diagram: SUMMARY CHARACTERISTICS OF DEFENDANTS

Of those defendants finalised in the Higher Courts, 87% (14,428) were adjudicated, meaning that the court made a determination of the defendant's guilt or innocence of the offence(s) with which they were charged. The remaining 13% (2,094) were finalised by non-adjudicated methods, in which there is no determination of the charges by the court. This includes outcomes such as all charges being withdrawn by the prosecution. There were 13,169 defendants proven guilty, which represents 91% of all adjudicated defendants. Of those defendants proven guilty, 88% (11,632) pleaded guilty and 12% (1,537) were found guilty following a trial.

Whilst the number of finalised defendants in the Higher Courts decreased from 2003-04 to 2004-05, both the number of defendants acquitted and the number of defendants found guilty by the court increased (20% and 12% respectively). The overall decrease in the number of finalised defendants was due mostly to a decrease of 8% in the number of defendants finalised by a guilty plea, which make up the largest proportion of finalised defendants.

The majority of defendants proven guilty in the Higher Courts received a sentence of a Custodial order (81% or 10,623) which includes Custody in a correctional institution, Custody in the community and Fully suspended sentences. The number of defendants found guilty that received principal sentences of Non-custodial orders has consistently decreased since 2001-02, with the largest decrease occurring between 2003-04 and 2004-05 (decrease of 16%).

Magistrates' Courts

The number of defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Courts increased by 6% from 527,374 in 2003-04 to 557,426 in 2004-05.

Of those defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Courts 88% (493,297) were adjudicated. The remaining 12% (64,117) were finalised by non-adjudicated methods such as all charges withdrawn by the prosecution or transfer to another court level. There were 473,988 defendants proven guilty, representing 96% of adjudicated defendants.

The increase in the number of defendants finalised between 2003-04 and 2004-05 was reflected in all finalisation types, with the number of non-adjudicated finalisations (including transfers) increasing by 6%, the number of defendants finalised by acquittal increasing by 3% and the number of proven guilty finalisations increasing by 6%.

The majority of defendants proven guilty in the Magistrates' Courts received a sentence of a Non-custodial order (91%), which includes Community supervision or work orders and Monetary orders.

Sex

Finalised defendants were more likely to be male than female. In the Higher Courts, 88% of finalised defendants were male, whilst for the Magistrates' Court 78% of finalised defendants were male.

States and Territories

Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia accounted for 73% of all defendants finalised in the Higher Courts (37%, 20% and 16% respectively). In the Magistrates' Courts, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria accounted for 71% of finalisations (29%, 24% and 18% respectively).


DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED

There were 14,428 defendants adjudicated in the Higher Courts and 493,297 in the Magistrates' Courts.

Principal offence

Offence refers to the principal offence adjudicated by the court for each defendant (see paragraphs 34-37 of the Explanatory Notes for further information on principal offence).

Higher Courts

In the Higher Courts, five principal offence types accounted for 72% of adjudicated defendants; Acts intended to cause injury (21%); Illicit drug offences (16%); Sexual assault and related offences (13%); Unlawful entry with intent (11%); and Robbery, extortion and related offences (11%).

The principal offence of Weapons and explosive offences had the largest percentage increase in the number of defendants adjudicated in the Higher Courts between 2003-04 and 2004-05 (increase of 84% to 125), and the largest percentage decrease was for Unlawful entry with intent (decrease of 28% to 1622).

The number of defendants adjudicated for a principal offence of Robbery, extortion and related offences has consistently decreased over the past 4 years, from 2022 in 2001-02 to 1525 in 2004-05. The number of defendants adjudicated for a principal offence of Public order offences has consistently increased between 2001-02 and 2004-05, with a total increase of 29% over these 4 years.

DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED, HIGHER COURTS, Selected principal offences
Graph: DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED, HIGHER COURTS, Selected principal offences


Magistrates' Courts

The five principal offences that accounted for the majority (76%) of adjudicated defendants in the Magistrates' Courts were: Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences (46%); Public order offences (9%); Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons (8%); Theft and related offences (7%); and Acts intended to cause injury (7%).

The number of defendants adjudicated for a principal offence of Offences against justice procedures, government security and operations increased by 28% from 2003-04 to 2004-05. There were large percentage decreases in the number of defendants adjudicated for the principal offences of Theft/illegal use motor vehicle (22%), Possess and/or use illicit drugs (25%) and Manufacture or cultivate illicit drugs (22%).

Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences accounted for the highest proportion of Magistrates' Courts adjudicated defendants in all states and territories. The proportion of adjudicated defendants with this principal offence ranged from 27% in Western Australia to 79% in Tasmania. Caution should be exercised in making comparisons between states and territories as there are a number of differences regarding how traffic matters are dealt with that may impact on these figures. These include:
  • the coding of drink driving offences to the principal offence of Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons (ASOC Group 0411 Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as occurs in Western Australia)
  • the use of fine recovery units in some states and territories (Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory) to deal with the non-payment of traffic infringement notices, reducing the number of these matters dealt with in the Magistrates' Courts.

When defendants with a principal offence related to traffic, which includes Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) Division 14 and ASOC Subdivision 041, are excluded, the five offences that accounted for the majority of other defendants in the Magistrates' Courts were; Public order offences (20%); Theft and related offences and Acts intended to cause injury (both 15%); Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations (14%); and Illicit drug offences (12%).

DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED, MAGISTRATES' COURTS(a), Selected principal offences
Graph: DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED, MAGISTRATES' COURTS, Selected principal offences



Principal offence - Age and sex

Higher Courts

In the Higher Courts principal offences for which the majority of both male and female defendants were adjudicated were; Acts intended to cause injury (21% of males adjudicated and 22% of females adjudicated); and Illicit drug offences (16% of male and 18% of female adjudicated defendants). Of males adjudicated, 14% were adjudicated for Sexual assault and related offences, compared to 2% of females. Of females adjudicated, 18% were adjudicated for Deception and related offences, compared to 6% of males.

DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED, HIGHER COURTS, Selected principal offences by sex
Graph: DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED, HIGHER COURTS, Selected principal offences by sex



The principal offences for which defendants were adjudicated in the Higher Courts were different across age groups. Of the defendants aged 45 years and over, 28% were adjudicated for a principal offence of Sexual assault and related offences, compared to 7% of those aged 24 years and under. Those aged 24 years and under were most likely to have been adjudicated for Acts intended to cause injury (25%), compared to 12% of those aged 45 years and over.

DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED, HIGHER COURTS, Selected principal offences by selected age groups
Graph: DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED, HIGHER COURTS, Selected principal offences by selected age groups



Magistrates' Courts

In the Magistrates' Courts, the most common principal offence for both male and female adjudicated defendants was Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences (45% and 48% respectively).

Excluding Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences, other adjudicated males were most likely to have had a principal offence of Public order offences (21%), followed by Acts intended to cause injury (15%). Other adjudicated females were most likely to have had a principal offence of Theft and related offences (25%), followed by Public order offences (15%).

DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED, MAGISTRATES' COURTS(a), Selected principal offences by sex
Graph: DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED, MAGISTRATES' COURTS, Selected principal offences by sex



In the Magistrates' Court, the majority of adjudicated defendants were aged 34 years and under for all principal offences except Sexual assault and related offences, for which 58% of adjudicated defendants were aged 35 years and over.

DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED, MAGISTRATES' COURTS, Selected principal offences by selected age groups
Graph: DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED, MAGISTRATES' COURTS, Selected principal offences, by selected age groups



In the Magistrates' Courts, defendants aged 45 years and over were more likely to have been adjudicated for a principal offence of Road traffic offences (53%) than defendants aged 24 years and under (40%), and less likely to have been adjudicated for a principal offence of Public order offences (7%) than those aged 24 years and under (12%). Besides these differences, there was little difference in the principal offence across age groups.

Principal offence - Adjudication type

Nationally 91% of defendants adjudicated in the Higher Courts were proven guilty, compared to 96% of defendants adjudicated in the Magistrates' Courts. In both court levels, adjudicated defendants with a principal offence of Illicit drug offences were most likely to be proven guilty (97% in Higher Courts, and 99% in Magistrates' Courts), whilst adjudicated defendants with a principal offence of Homicide and related offences had a lower rate of proven guilty outcomes (82% in Higher Courts and 69% in Magistrates' Courts).

In the Higher Courts, 81% of defendants adjudicated were finalised by pleading guilty, and 19% were finalised by a trial outcome (acquittal or proven guilty). Adjudicated defendants with a principal offence of Unlawful entry with intent or Weapons and explosive offences were more likely to be finalised with a guilty plea (both 91%) than for other principal offence types. Adjudicated defendants with a principal offence of Sexual assault and related offences or Homicide and related offences were less likely to plead guilty (58% and 50% respectively) than for other principal offences, and therefore most likely to have a trial outcome.

Of the 2,796 adjudicated defendants that had a trial outcome in the Higher Courts, 45% were acquitted. Three principal offences accounted for the majority of trial outcomes; Sexual assault and related offences (27%); Acts intended to cause injury (20%); and Illicit drug and related offences (11%). Defendants with a principal offence of Sexual assault and related offences and Acts intended to cause injury were more likely to be acquitted at trial (57% and 51% respectively), whilst defendants with a principal offence of Illicit drug and related offences were less likely to be acquitted (22%).


DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY

Principal sentence

Data on sentences are collected and published for all defendants that are proven guilty of one or more charges in a criminal court. Sentence refers to the principal sentence a defendant received (see paragraph 43 of the Explanatory Notes for further information on principal sentence).

Defendants proven guilty in the Higher Courts were more likely to have received a Custodial sentence in a correctional institution or the community than those found guilty in the Magistrates' Court (63% and 5% respectively). This reflects the nature of offences heard in each of the court levels, with the higher courts generally hearing more serious offences. However there were a much larger number of defendants sentenced to Custody in a correctional institution or the community by the Magistrates' Courts than the Higher Courts (23,377 and 8,272 respectively).

The proportion of defendants proven guilty in the Higher Courts that received a Custodial sentence in a correctional institution or the community ranged from 44% for Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations and Public order offences to 90% for Homicide and related offences.

The proportion of defendants proven guilty in Higher Courts that received a Custodial sentence in a correctional institution or the community also varied across states and territories, ranging from 44% in South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory to 75% in New South Wales. Fully suspended sentences varied from a high of 48% in South Australia to a low of 12% in Queensland.

DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY, HIGHER COURTS, Selected principal sentences by states and territories
Graph: DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY, HIGHER COURTS, Selected principal sentences by states and territories



In the Magistrates' Courts defendants proven guilty were most likely to receive a Custodial sentence in a correctional institution or the community or a Fully suspended sentence for principal offences of Robbery, extortion and related offences (55%), Unlawful entry with intent (53%) or Abduction and related offences (48%).

Defendants with a principal sentence of Non-custodial orders (Community supervision/work orders, Monetary orders and Other non-custodial sentences) accounted for 19% of defendants proven guilty in the Higher Courts, while for the Magistrates' Courts the majority (91%) of defendants proven guilty received this type of sentence.

The most common Non-custodial orders in the Magistrates' Courts were Monetary orders, with 72% of defendants proven guilty receiving this sentence type. Monetary orders were most common for the principal offence of Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons (86% of defendants proven guilty) and Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences (84%). Other Non-custodial orders (excluding Monetary orders) were most common for the principal offence of Homicide and related offences (46%).

Principal sentence - Age and sex

In the Higher Courts, males proven guilty (65%) were more likely than females (48%) to receive a principal sentence of Custody in a correctional institution/community for all principal offences. Females proven guilty (23%) were more likely than males (17%) to receive a Fully suspended sentence.

In the Magistrates' Courts 72% of both males and females proven guilty received a Monetary order sentence, whilst 10% of males and 5% of females received a sentence of Custody in a correction institution/community or Fully suspended sentence.

A lower proportion of defendants proven guilty aged under 20 years received a Custodial sentence in a correctional institution or the community or a Fully suspended sentence than other age cohorts in both the Higher Courts (64%) and Magistrates' Courts (4%).


DURATION FROM INITIATION TO FINALISATION

The nature of the charges presented to the court, along with the process required to deal with the charges (which is affected by the type of plea), impact on the time required for a court to finalise a case.

Defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Courts are generally finalised in a shorter amount of time than those finalised in the Higher Courts. In the Higher Courts, 24% were finalised within 13 weeks from initiation, compared to 73% finalised within 13 weeks in the Magistrates' Courts.

In the Higher Courts, 50% of all finalised defendants that went to trial were finalised at 52 weeks or more after initiation. Those acquitted took less time to be finalised (46% finalised 52 weeks or more after initiation), than those found guilty by the court (54%). Deception and related offences had the highest proportion of defendants finalised 52 weeks or more after initiation (58% acquitted, 70% found guilty by the court).

Where defendants pleaded guilty in the Higher Courts, 15% were finalised in 52 weeks or more, and 30% were finalised in less than 13 weeks. Less than a third (31%) of non-adjudicated defendants (including transfers) were finalised at 52 weeks or more from initiation.

DEFENDANTS FINALISED, Duration from initiation to finalisation and court level
Graph: DEFENDANTS FINALISED, Duration from initiation to finalisation and court level


In the Magistrates' Courts, 78% of finalised defendants that were proven guilty were finalised in less than 13 weeks, compared to 45% of those that were acquitted.

In the Magistrates' Courts, 30% of transfers were finalised in 13 weeks and under, and 55% of non-adjudications were finalised in this time frame.

Defendants adjudicated in the Magistrates' Courts with a principal offence of Dangerous or negligent acts or Public order offences had the shortest duration (84% and 87% respectively finalised within 13 weeks of initiation).


CHILDREN'S CRIMINAL COURT FINALISATIONS

Coverage and data quality issues place limitations on the use of the experimental Children's Court data for the 2004-05 reference period. For further details see Appendix 1 of publication.

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