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HIGHER CRIMINAL COURT FINALISATIONS
Of the 17,997 defendants finalised in the Higher criminal courts during 2001-02, 78% (14,073) were proven guilty (i.e. pleaded guilty or were declared guilty at trial) and 6% (1,156) were acquitted. Combined, these two finalisation outcomes represent defendants that had their cases adjudicated by the courts (85% or 15,229). The remaining 15% (2,768) of defendants were finalised by a non-adjudicated method such as all charges withdrawn by the prosecution, the defendant absconded or the defendant died.
Of all adjudicated defendants, 16% (2,474) were subject to a trial outcome and of these trial outcome adjudications 53% (1,318) were found guilty. Guilty pleas accounted for 84% (12,755) of adjudicated finalisations. Of the 14,073 defendants who were proven guilty, 91% pleaded guilty and the other 9% were declared guilty at trial.
Queensland had the largest number of adjudicated defendants (6,065), followed by New South Wales (3,167).
Age and sex
The median age of defendants finalised by adjudication in the Higher Criminal Courts was 29 years. The majority (55%) of adjudicated defendants were aged between 20 and 34 years. The median age of adjudicated defendants displayed considerable variation across the principal offence categories (see principal offence below).
Males represented 88% of total adjudicated defendants. Of all defendants adjudicated during 2001-02, 48% were males aged 20-34 years. Approximately one-third of both male and female adjudicated defendants were aged 25-34 years (31% of male adjudicated defendants and 35% of female adjudicated defendants).
Offence data refer to the principal offence adjudicated by the court (see paragraphs 37-40 of the Explanatory Notes for discussion on principal offence).
Five principal offence categories (Australian Standard Offence Classification Divisions, see Appendix 4 in the publication), accounted for the majority of the adjudicated defendants in Australia's Higher Criminal Courts during 2001-02. These were: acts intending to cause injury (including assault) (20%); unlawful entry with intent (including burglary and break and enter) (14%); offences related to robbery and extortion (13%); illicit drug offences (13%); and offences related to sexual assault (10%). There were 10,934 (72%) defendants adjudicated by the Higher Criminal Courts with a principal offence in one of these five offence categories.
For both male and female defendants, the most prevalent principal offence category for which they were adjudicated was acts intending to cause injury (21% of males and 19% of females). There were proportionally more males with a principal offence related to sexual assault (12% of males, 1% of females) while offences related to deception was the principal offence for 17% of females and 6% of males.
Adjudicated defendants with a principal offence related to sexual assault had the highest median age (40 years) while the lowest median age was for defendants with a principal offence related to robbery and/or extortion, or unlawful entry with intent (24 years).
Nationally, the principal offence of adjudicated defendants showed a different pattern for males and females across age groups in the Higher Criminal Courts. Both males and females aged up to 24 years were more likely to be adjudicated with a principal offence related to robbery/extortion or unlawful entry with intent. Males aged 25-44 years were more likely to be adjudicated with a principal offence of acts intending to cause injury, whilst males aged 45 years and over were more likely to be adjudicated for a principal offence related to sexual assault. Females aged 25-34 were more likely to be adjudicated with a principal offence of acts intended to cause injury, while females aged 35 years and over were more likely to be adjudicated with a principal offence of illicit drug offences (closely followed by deception and related offences).
Method of finalisation
Nationally, 84% of adjudicated defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts were finalised by pleading guilty. Those with a principal offence of unlawful entry with intent had the highest proportion of defendants finalised with a plea of guilty (94%), followed closely by those with a principal offence of dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons (93%). In contrast, adjudicated defendants with a principal offence related to homicide (47%) or sexual assault (60%) were least likely to plead guilty.
Adjudicated defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts with a principal offence related to homicide or sexual assault had the highest proportion of guilty verdicts and acquittals (as a consequence of their lower propensity to plead guilty). Adjudicated defendants with a principal offence related to homicide had the highest proportion of guilty verdicts (34%) followed by those with a principal offence related to sexual assault (15%). Adjudicated defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts with a principal offence related to sexual assault had the greatest proportion of acquittals (25%) followed by homicide and related offences (19%).
Across all principal offence categories, the acquittal rate for Higher Criminal Court defendants as a proportion of trial outcomes was 47%. Defendants with a principal offence related to sexual assault had the highest acquittal rate (62%), while for those with a principal offence related to homicide, the acquittal rate was 37%. The principal offence with the lowest acquittal rate was public order offences (24%), followed by illicit drug offences (26%).
DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY - PRINCIPAL SENTENCE TYPE
Data on sentence type is collected and published for all defendants who are proven guilty. Sentence type refers to the principal sentence type a defendant receives (see paragraph 44 of the Explanatory Notes for further information).
Just over half of defendants proven guilty (54%) received custodial orders to be served (i.e. custodial orders excluding fully suspended sentences). For both males and females these were the main sentence types, although the proportion was higher for males (57%) than females (38%). For both males and females, the number of defendants receiving this sentence type was greatest for defendants aged 25-34 years.
Custodial orders (excluding fully suspended sentences) as a proportion of all sentence types varied across principal offence categories. Offence categories such as homicide and related offences and robbery, extortion and related offences had the highest proportion of these sentence types (86% and 77% respectively), whilst property damage and environmental pollution offences and public order offences had the lowest proportions of these sentence types (31% and 32% respectively). The proportions of custodial orders also varied across states and territories, with some of the largest variations occurring for the principal offences of acts intended to cause injury (ranging from 38% in South Australia to 75% in the Northern Territory) and deception and related offences (ranging from 33% in Queensland to 83% in South Australia and the Northern Territory).
Nationally, 17% of adjudicated defendants proven guilty received a fully suspended sentence as their principal sentence type. Fully suspended sentences were the principal sentence type for 17% of males and 20% of females. For both males and females, the proportion of defendants receiving a fully suspended sentence as a principal sentence increased with age ranging from 12% for males and females under 20 years, to 21% for males and 25% for females aged 45 years and over. Fully suspended sentences as a principal sentence type were greatest for offences against justice procedures (27%). For illicit drug offences, 25% of defendants received a fully suspended sentence as their principal sentence.
Nationally, 28% of defendants proven guilty received a principal sentence type of a non-custodial order (includes community supervision/work orders, monetary orders and other non-custodial orders). This proportion was greater for females (40%) than for males (26%). The most common non-custodial sentence type for both males and females was a community supervision/work order (70% and 73% respectively of non-custodial sentences). However, unlike fully suspended sentences, the proportion of defendants receiving community supervision/work orders as a principal sentence decreased with age from 40% of males and 48% of females aged less than 20 years, to 9% of males and 16% of females aged 45 years and over.
More than half of defendants (53%) proven guilty with a principal offence relating to property damage or environmental pollution received a non-custodial principal sentence. This was followed by 44% of defendants for public order offences and 41% of defendants for theft and related offences.
The median duration of all finalised defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts in 2001-02 was 20 weeks from initiation to finalisation, which represents a 5% (1 week) decrease since 2000-01. New South Wales recorded the largest actual and proportional decrease in median duration to 21 weeks. This 13% (or 3 week) decrease in New South Wales between 2000-01 and 2001-02 in conjunction with the large decrease between 1999-2000 and 2000-01 (26% or 9 weeks), highlights the continuing impact of major administrative and legal reforms that have been implemented in New South Wales. Other states and territories that recorded decreases in median duration for finalised defendants between 2000-01 and 2001-02 were Western Australia (10%), Northern Territory (6%), South Australia (6%) and Queensland (5%). Tasmania recorded the largest actual, and proportional increase in median duration (38% or 5 weeks) between 2000-01 and 2001-02. The large increase in Tasmania in the median duration of finalised defendants was primarily the result of an increase in the number of defendants initiated (36% or 160 defendants), several long trials and an increase in the number of trial outcomes.
The period 1996-97 to 2001-02 shows that New South Wales had the largest decrease in median duration for finalised defendants (31%) while the Australian Capital Territory median duration for finalised defendants more than doubled during this period (105%) from 17 weeks to 34 weeks, although this has been relatively stable for the past 3 years. Factors contributing to this increase in the Australian Capital Territory include an increase in the number of finalised defendants, and delays in the court system due to long running trials with complex issues, and infrastructure limitations.
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 defended case 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.
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 negate the need for a trial and result in a sentencing hearing.
Of the defendants finalised by adjudication (excluding Queensland), 55% (5,038) entered the Higher Criminal Courts with a not guilty plea and were therefore expected to be tried. Of the defendants who initially pleaded not guilty, 59% (2,994) changed their plea to guilty during proceedings in the Higher Criminal Courts.
Generally, defendants with an initial plea of guilty had a shorter duration 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 in turn had a shorter duration than defendants with an initial and final plea of not guilty.
Method of finalisation
Of all adjudicated defendants, those that received a guilty verdict had a median duration of 47 weeks, and those that were acquitted at trial had a median duration of 37 weeks. For those who pleaded guilty the median duration was 17 weeks.
Adjudicated defendants with a principal offence related to homicide had the longest median duration of 38 weeks, followed by defendants with a principal offence related to sexual assault or abduction (27 weeks). Homicide and sexual assault had the largest proportion of trial outcomes (53% 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 12 weeks, this is in line with the majority of defendants pleading guilty (94%).
Durations were quite different for defendants with a trial outcome, with more violent offences including homicide and sexual assault having shorter median durations than some non-violent offences including unlawful entry with intent.
Between 2000-01 and 2001-02 the number of finalisations in the Higher Criminal Courts decreased by less than 1% (32) to 17,997 defendants. The increase of 298 (4%) in Queensland in the number of finalised defendants between 2000-01 and 2001-02 was the largest actual change.
The pending workload at a point in time is represented by the number of defendants not finalised (data on pending workload are not available for Queensland). For the other states and territories, there were 7,366 defendants pending at the end of 2001-02, an increase of 14% (929) since the end of 2000-01. The only state or territory to record a decrease in the number of defendants pending at the end of 2001-02 was the Australian Capital Territory with a decrease of 17% (25).
MAGISTRATES' CRIMINAL COURT FINALISATIONS
Coverage and data quality issues place limitations on the use of the experimental Magistrates' Criminal Court data for the 2001-02 reference period. For further details see paragraphs 49-52 of the Explanatory Notes and Appendix 1 in the publication.
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