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4513.0 - Criminal Courts, Australia, 2002-03  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/02/2004   
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NOTES


ABOUT THIS PUBLICATION

This publication presents nationally comparable statistics relating to the criminal jurisdiction of the Higher (Supreme and Intermediate) Courts across Australia for the period 1 July 2002-30 June 2003. Magistrates' Criminal Courts data are also available on an experimental basis. The statistics provide indicators on the characteristics of defendants, including information on the offences and sentence types 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, Appendixes 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

A bench warrant issued is no longer considered a method of finalisation (see paragraph 27 of the Explanatory Notes for further information).

In table 1, the offence categories 'Homicide and related offences', 'Deception and related offences' and 'Illicit drug offences' have been further disaggregated.

Data on Higher Criminal Court principal offence, principal sentence type and sex have been published in table 4. A comparison of principal offence and principal sentence type between 2001-02 and 2002-03 has been published in tables 9 and 10.

Some previously published data are available as special data services. For further information on the availability of data cubes contact the National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070.


EXPERIMENTAL DATA

Data on the characteristics of defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Criminal Courts are included in this publication. These tables are considered experimental (see paragraphs 45-47 of the Explanatory Notes for further information). 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.


INFORMATION ON ABS CRIME AND JUSTICE

Information about ABS activities in the field of Crime and Justice statistics are available from the Crime and Justice theme page on the ABS web site. To access the theme page, select Themes from the menu on the home page. Details of other ABS publications relating to Crime and Justice statistics can be found in paragraph 48 of the Explanatory Notes.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The ABS acknowledges the valuable contribution of the Board of Management, National Criminal Court Statistics Advisory Group, the Courts Practitioners Group and the staff of the various agencies that provide the statistics that are 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 Nick Skondreas on Melbourne 03 9615 7381.


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 2002-30 June 2003. The criminal jurisdiction of the courts is responsible for trying and sentencing persons or 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 except for Queensland (where it is supplied via the Office of Economic and Statistical Research), and New South Wales (where for the first time, it is being supplied via the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research).

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

A comparison of Higher Criminal Court offence and sentence type data between 2001-02 and 2002-03 has been provided. Summary data relating to criminal finalisations in the Higher Criminal Courts are also available for individual years from 1996-97 onwards.

Information on the characteristics of defendants finalised in the criminal jurisdiction of the Magistrates' Courts, including offence and sentence type information associated with those defendants, is presented. These tables have been labelled experimental and are included in Appendix 1.

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


KEY FINDINGS

The key findings for defendants finalised in the Higher Criminal Courts during 2002-03 are:

  • The number of finalisations decreased by 8% (1,354) between 2001-02 and 2002-03 to 16,643. The exclusion of bench warrants as a method of finalisation has partly contributed to this decrease (see paragraph 27 of the Explanatory Notes for further information). Taking this change into account, the number of finalisations between 2001-02 and 2002-03 (excluding bench warrants) fell by 5%.
  • More than 80% (13,474) of all finalised defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts were proven guilty and 6% (990) were acquitted. Combined, these two finalisation outcomes represent defendants that had their case adjudicated by the courts (87% or 14,464) and of these 93% (13,474) were proven guilty.
  • Males represented the majority of adjudicated defendants (87%). Of all defendants adjudicated, half were males aged 20-34 years. Just over 40% of both male and female adjudicated defendants were aged 20-29 years.
  • For male defendants, the most prevalent principal offence category for which they were adjudicated was Acts intended to cause injury (21%). For females it was Deception and related offences, and Acts intended to cause injury (both 19%).
  • Just over half of defendants proven guilty (55%) received custodial orders to be served (i.e. custodial orders excluding fully suspended sentences) in 2002-03, a slight increase on 2001-02 (54%). For both males and females, custodial orders to be served were the main sentence types, although the proportion was higher for males (58%) than females (38%).
  • Over 37% of females proven guilty received a non-custodial order compared to 24% of males.
  • The median duration for all adjudicated defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts in 2002-03 was 22 weeks from initiation to finalisation.
  • Of all adjudicated defendants, those that received a guilty verdict had a median duration of 48 weeks, and those that were acquitted at trial had a median duration of 40 weeks. For those who pleaded guilty the median duration was 19 weeks.


HIGHER CRIMINAL COURT FINALISATIONS

There were 16,643 defendants finalised in the Higher Criminal Courts during 2002-03, a decrease of 8% on the 17,997 defendants finalised in 2001-02 (see table 11). The exclusion of bench warrants as a method of finalisation has partly contributed to this decrease (see paragraph 27 of the Explanatory Notes for further information). Taking this change into account, the number of finalisations between 2001-02 and 2002-03 (excluding bench warrants) fell by 5%.

Over the past six years, and excluding bench warrants prior to 2002-03, the number of defendants finalised in the Higher Criminal Courts has fluctuated from a low of 15,281 in 1996-97 to a high of 18,864 in 1999-2000.
DEFENDANTS FINALISED(a)
Graph: DEFENDANTS FINALISED(a)


Method of finalisation

In 2002-03, more than 80% (13,474) of defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts were proven guilty (i.e. pleaded guilty or were declared guilty at trial) and 6% (990) were acquitted (see table 8). Combined, these two finalisation outcomes represent defendants that had their cases adjudicated by the courts (87% or 14,464). The remaining 13% (2,179) of defendants were finalised by a non-adjudicated method such as all charges withdrawn by the prosecution.

Of all adjudicated defendants, 83% pleaded guilty and 17% (2,393) were subject to a trial outcome. Of these trial outcome adjudications, 59% (1,403) were found guilty.
Diagram: Method of finalisation



ADJUDICATED DEFENDANTS

Age and sex

The median age of defendants finalised by adjudication in the Higher Criminal Courts was 29 years, with the age profile of female defendants (30 years) slightly older than that of male defendants (28 years) (see table 1). The median age of adjudicated defendants displayed considerable variation across the principal offence categories (see principal offence below).

Males represented the majority of adjudicated defendants (87%). Of all defendants adjudicated during 2002-03, half were males aged 20-34 years. Approximately 42% of both male and female adjudicated defendants were aged 20-29 years.
ADJUDICATED DEFENDANTS(a), By age and sex
Graph: ADJUDICATED DEFENDANTS(a), By age and sex


Principal offence

Offence data refer to the principal offence adjudicated by the court (see paragraphs 33-36 of the Explanatory Notes for discussion on principal offence).

Five principal offence categories (Australian Standard Offence Classification Divisions, see Appendix 2), accounted for the majority of the adjudicated defendants in Australia's Higher Criminal Courts during 2002-03. These were: Acts intended to cause injury (including assault) (21%); Unlawful entry with intent (including burglary and break and enter) (15%); Illicit drug offences (13%); Robbery, extortion and related offences (12%); and Sexual assault and related offences (11%). There were 10,274 (71%) defendants adjudicated by the Higher Criminal Courts with a principal offence in one of these five offence categories.

For male defendants, the most prevalent principal offence category for which they were adjudicated was Acts intended to cause injury (21%). For females it was Deception and related offences and Acts intended to cause injury (both 19%). In comparison to the relatively high proportion of females with a principal offence of Deception and related offences, 6% of males had this as their principal offence. In contrast, there were proportionally more males than females with a principal offence of Sexual assault and related offences (12% and 1% respectively).
ADJUDICATED DEFENDANTS, By selected principal offence
Graph: Adjudicated defendants, By selected principal offence


Adjudicated defendants with a principal offence of Manufacture or cultivate illicit drugs had the highest median age (39 years), while the lowest median age was for defendants with a principal offence of Robbery, extortion and related offences, and Unlawful entry with intent (24 years) (see table 1).
ADJUDICATED DEFENDANTS, Median age by selected principal offence
Graph: Adjudicated defendants, Median age by selected principal offence


Nationally, the principal offence of adjudicated defendants showed a different pattern across age groups in the Higher Criminal Courts. Defendants aged less than 20 years were more likely to be adjudicated with a principal offence of Unlawful entry with intent, whilst those aged 20-44 years were more likely to be adjudicated for Acts intended to cause injury and those aged 45 years and over were more likely to be adjudicated for Sexual assault and related offences. While this is consistent for males, female defendants aged less than 20 years or 25-34 years were more likely to be adjudicated with a principal offence of Acts intended to cause injury, those aged 20-24 years were more likely to be adjudicated for Unlawful entry with intent and those aged 35 years and over were more likely to be adjudicated for Deception and relation offences.

Between 2001-02 and 2002-03 the proportion of adjudicated defendants was similar across all principal offence categories for sex.

Principal Offence - Adjudication type

Nationally, 83% of adjudicated defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts were finalised by pleading guilty (see table 2). Those with a principal offence of Unlawful entry with intent had the highest proportion of defendants finalised with a plea of guilty (95%). In contrast, adjudicated defendants with a principal offence of Homicide and related offences (51%) or Sexual assault and related offences (60%) were least likely to plead guilty and therefore most likely to have a trial outcome (acquittal or guilty verdict).

Three principal offence categories accounted for the majority of trial outcomes. These were: Sexual assault and related offences (26%); Acts intended to cause injury (21%) and Illicit drug offences (10%). There were 1,349 (56%) defendants with a trial outcome in the Higher Criminal Courts in one of these three offence categories.

Across all principal offence categories, the acquittal rate for Higher Criminal Court defendants as a proportion of trial outcomes was 41%. The principal offence category with the highest acquittal rate was Abduction and related offences (57%), followed by Sexual assault and related offences (51%). The principal offence with the lowest acquittal rate was Illicit drug offences (20%).

Nationally, 93% of adjudicated defendants were proven guilty. The proportion of adjudicated defendants proven guilty was highest for Unlawful entry with intent and Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons (both 98%), followed by Illicit drug offences, Theft and related offences, and Deception and related offences (each 97%).

The proportions of adjudicated defendants proven guilty varied across states and territories, with some of the largest variations occurring for the principal offence categories of Acts intended to cause injury (ranging from 77% in the Australian Capital Territory to 94% in Victoria) and Sexual assault and related offences (ranging from 70% in New South Wales to 90% in Victoria).

Duration

The median duration of all adjudicated defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts in 2002-03 was 22 weeks from initiation to finalisation.

The nature of the charges presented to the court, together with the process required to deal with the charges (which is affected by type of plea), impact on the time required for a court to finalise a case. In general, a trial will require more court time than a case where the defendant initially pleads guilty. The complexity of the case, often associated with the type of offence(s) being heard, also impacts on the time required to finalise a case.

Duration - Change in plea

The initial plea entered by the defendant has implications for the workload of the Higher Criminal Courts and the length of time a defendant remains active within the court system. An initial plea of 'Not guilty' may lead to a trial while an initial plea of 'Guilty' will remove the need for a trial and result in a sentencing hearing.

Of the defendants finalised by adjudication (excluding Queensland), 57% (5,071) entered the Higher Criminal Courts with a not guilty plea and were therefore expected to be tried (see table 7). Of the defendants who initially pleaded not guilty, 63% (3,179) changed their plea to guilty during proceedings in the Higher Criminal Courts.

Defendants with an initial plea of guilty had a shorter median duration in the Higher Criminal Courts system than defendants with an initial plea of not guilty and final plea of guilty. Defendants entering an initial plea of not guilty and final plea of guilty had a shorter median duration than defendants with an initial and final plea of not guilty.

Duration - Adjudication type

Of all adjudicated defendants, those that received a guilty verdict had a median duration of 48 weeks, and those that were acquitted at trial had a median duration of 40 weeks (see table 6). For those who pleaded guilty the median duration was 19 weeks.

Duration - Principal offence

Adjudicated defendants with a principal offence of Homicide and related offences had the longest median court case duration of 37 weeks, followed by defendants with a principal offence of Sexual assault and related offences (29 weeks). These two offence categories had a high proportion of trial outcomes (49% and 40% respectively), which take longer to finalise. Adjudicated defendants with a principal offence of Unlawful entry with intent had the shortest median duration of 14 weeks, consistent with the majority of defendants pleading guilty (95%).
ADJUDICATED DEFENDANTS, Median duration by selected principal offence
Graph: Adjudicated defendants, Median duration by selected principal offence



DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY - PRINCIPAL SENTENCE TYPE

Data on sentence type are collected and published for all defendants who are proven guilty. Sentence type refers to the principal sentence type a defendant receives (see paragraph 41 of the Explanatory Notes for further information).

Custodial orders

Just over half of defendants proven guilty (55%) received custodial orders to be served (i.e. custodial orders excluding fully suspended sentences) in 2002-03, a slight increase on 2001-02 (54%) (see table 10). For both males and females, this was the main sentence type, although the proportion was higher for males (58%) than females (38%) (see table 3).
DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY, Custodial order (excluding fully suspended sentences) by age and sex
Graph: DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY, Custodial order (excluding fully suspended sentences) by age and sex


Custodial orders (excluding fully suspended sentences) as a proportion of all sentence types varied across principal offence categories and ranged from 87% for Homicide and related offences, to 31% for Public order offences (see table 4). Males were nearly twice as likely to receive a custodial order for Property damage and environmental pollution (49% of males and 25% of females) and Acts intended to cause injury (56% of males and 30% of females).

The proportions of custodial orders varied across states and territories, ranging from 38% in the Australian Capital Territory to 74% in the Northern Territory and New South Wales. Some of the largest variations occurred for the principal offences of Acts intended to cause injury (ranging from 20% in the Australian Capital Territory to 78% in the Northern Territory) and Deception and related offences (ranging from 32% in Victoria to 88% in the Northern Territory).
DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY, Custodial order (excluding fully suspended sentences)
Graph: DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY, Custodial order (excluding fully suspended sentences)


Nationally, 18% of adjudicated defendants proven guilty received a fully suspended sentence as their principal sentence type (see table 3). Fully suspended sentences were the principal sentence type for 17% of males and 24% of females. The proportion of defendants receiving a fully suspended sentence as a principal sentence increased with age, ranging from 11% for persons under 20 years, to 22% for persons aged 45 years and over. Fully suspended sentences as a principal sentence type were greatest for Offences against justice procedures (28%), followed by Illicit drug offences, and Weapons and explosives offences (both 25%) (see table 4).

Non-custodial orders

Approximately one-quarter (26%) of defendants proven guilty received a non-custodial order (includes community supervision/work orders, monetary orders and other non-custodial orders) as their principal sentence type (see table 3). This proportion was greater for females (37%) than for males (24%).

In contrast to fully suspended sentences, the proportion of defendants proven guilty receiving a non-custodial order decreased with age, ranging from 50% for persons aged less than 20 years to 18% for persons aged 45 years or more. The most common non-custodial sentence type for both males and females was a community supervision/work order (67% and 71% respectively of non-custodial sentences).
DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY, Age by selected principal sentence
Graph: DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY, Age by selected principal sentence


The principal offence categories most likely to receive a non-custodial principal sentence (see table 5) were Public order offences (50%), followed by defendants for both Property damage and environmental pollution, and Theft and related offences (39%).

Between 2001-02 and 2002-03 the proportion of defendants proven guilty receiving a non-custodial order decreased from 28% to 26%, while the median age of defendants proven guilty receiving this sentence type decreased from 25 years to 24 years.


MAGISTRATES' CRIMINAL COURT FINALISATIONS

Coverage and data quality issues place limitations on the use of the experimental Magistrates' Criminal Court data for the 2002-03 reference period. For further details see pages 47-49 of Appendix 1.

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