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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2007  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/01/2007   
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COURTS

Many courts and court-related tribunals operate throughout Australia. The majority of courts handle matters that are criminal or civil in nature, while tribunals provide a less costly alternative for progressing some civil and administrative matters outside the formality of a court. A criminal matter generally arises where a charge has been laid either by police or some other prosecuting authority on the basis of a breach of criminal law. A civil matter occurs where there is a dispute between two or more individuals or organisations, where one party seeks legal remedy for an injury or loss from the other party who is alleged to be liable.

There are many other types of courts and tribunals in operation, commonly referred to as specialist courts and tribunals. Examples of these include the Coroners' Courts, Family Court, Federal Magistrates' Court, Drug Courts, Domestic Violence Courts, Workers' Compensation Commissions/Tribunals, Industrial Relations Commission, Small Claims Tribunals, Administrative Appeals Tribunal and Residential Tenancy Tribunal.

Courts and tribunals are arranged in a hierarchy (diagram 11.24), with the majority of less serious matters being heard before magistrates and more serious matters being heard before judges. For criminal matters the seriousness is often determined by the nature of the alleged offence. In a civil context, seriousness is generally determined according to the amount being sought in compensation. A court's or tribunal's ability to deal with a civil, criminal or other matter will depend on the state or territory's legislation or jurisdiction applicable to that particular level of court.

The hierarchy of courts also applies to appeal matters. Where grounds for appeal exist, the appeal process is available in both criminal and civil matters. Appeals resulting from civil tribunal decisions may be referred to the Magistrates', District/County, Supreme or Commonwealth Courts, depending on the jurisdiction and the rights of appeal. Criminal appeals resulting from the Magistrates' Court can be appealed at the District/County, Supreme or Commonwealth Court level in the first instance. The High Court of Australia is the highest court of appeal for both criminal and civil cases.

11.24 HIERARCHY OF COURTS
11.24 HIERARCHY OF COURTS



CRIMINAL COURTS

A system of courts for the hearing of criminal matters exists in all Australian states and territories. Once charges are laid by police, the court will hear evidence by both prosecution and defence, and will make a decision as to whether or not the defendant is guilty. In cases where the defendant is found guilty, the court may also record a conviction and impose a penalty.

The lowest level of criminal court is the Magistrates' Court or Court of Summary Jurisdiction. The majority of all criminal cases are heard in these courts. Cases heard in Magistrates' Courts do not involve a jury and a magistrate determines the guilt or innocence of the defendant. This is known as a summary proceeding. More serious offences are dealt with by the higher court levels.

All states and territories have a Supreme Court that can deal with all criminal matters. The larger jurisdictions also have an intermediate level of court, known as the District or County Court, that deals with the majority of serious offences. The Supreme Courts and Intermediate Courts are collectively referred to as the Higher Courts.

All defendants that are dealt with by the Higher Courts have an automatic entitlement to a trial before a judge and jury. In some jurisdictions, the defendant may elect to have the matter heard before a judge alone. Offences that must be heard before a judge and jury are known as indictable offences. These include offences such as murder, manslaughter and drug importation as well as serious sexual offences, robberies and assaults.

A defendant proven guilty in a criminal matter is entitled to appeal against the conviction or against the severity of penalty imposed. Under some circumstances, the prosecution is also entitled to appeal against the leniency of the penalty. The states and territories differ in the ways in which they deal with appeals. Some appeals from Magistrates' Courts may be heard before the Intermediate Courts. In other jurisdictions the Supreme Court may hear these appeals. In most jurisdictions an appeal court or Court of Criminal Appeal may be constituted to hear appeals from the Supreme or Intermediate Courts, with the highest court of appeal for all jurisdictions being the High Court of Australia.

NATIONAL CRIMINAL COURTS STATISTICS

The aim of the Criminal Courts collection, conducted by the ABS, is to provide comparable statistics for the states and territories and for Australia on the characteristics of defendants dealt with by the Criminal Courts. This includes information on the offences and sentences associated with those defendants. In order to ensure consistency between the states and territories, the statistics have been compiled according to national standards and classifications. However, some legislative and processing differences may limit the degree to which the statistics are comparable across the states and territories. Differences may also arise as a result of other factors, including refinements in data quality procedures and modifications in the systems used to obtain and compile the figures.

CRIMINAL COURTS DEFENDANT SUMMARY CHARACTERISTICS

Diagram 11.25 presents summary characteristics of defendants dealt with by the Higher and Magistrates' Courts of Australia. 'Finalised defendant' refers to all charges against a person or organisation having been formally completed so that the defendant ceases to be an item of work to be dealt with by a particular court. Adjudication is a method of finalisation based on a judgement or decision by the court as to whether or not a defendant is guilty of the charge(s) laid against them.

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

The majority (87% or 14,428) of defendants finalised in the Higher Courts during 2004-05 were adjudicated. Those proven guilty comprised 91% (13,169) of all adjudications, while acquittals comprised 9% (1,259) of the total. Of those proven guilty, 88% pleaded guilty and 12% were declared guilty at trial. The remaining defendants (13%) were finalised by a non-adjudicated method such as all charges withdrawn by the prosecution.

The Magistrates' Courts finalised 557,426 defendants during 2004-05. Adjudications comprised 88% (493,297) of all finalisations. Defendants proven guilty (i.e. pleaded guilty or were declared guilty) and defendants acquitted comprised 96% and 4% respectively of all adjudications. Non-adjudicated methods (such as all charges withdrawn by the prosecution or transferred to another court level) comprised 12% of finalised defendants.

11.25 CRIMINAL COURT FINALISATIONS - 2004-05

11.25 CRIMINAL COURT FINALISATIONS - 2004-05 11.25 CRIMINAL COURT FINALISATIONS - 2004-05


CRIMINAL COURTS FINALISATIONS

For all court levels, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria accounted for 71% of finalisations nationally (29%, 24% and 18% respectively). Queensland accounted for the highest proportion of finalisations for the Higher Courts (37%) and New South Wales for the highest proportion of finalisations in the Magistrates' Courts (29%) (table 11.26).


11.26 CRIMINAL COURT FINALISATIONS(a) - 2004-05

Higher Criminal Courts
Magistrates' Criminal Courts

New South Wales(b)
3,356
160,560
Victoria
2,425
99,096
Queensland(c)
6,105
134,005
South Australia(c)
941
44,134
Western Australia
2,695
60,136
Tasmania
526
46,019
Northern Territory
331
8,892
Australian Capital Territory
144
4,584
Australia
16,523
557,426

(a) Excludes defendants finalised by a bench warrant being issued.
(b) Refers to finalised appearances rather than finalised defendants in the Magistrates' Court, resulting in a possible increase in the population counts.
(c) Excludes children treated as adults.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia, 2004-05 (4513.0).


Men represented the majority of finalised defendants (78% or 447,140) in the Higher and Magistrates' Courts during 2004-05. Just under half (282,620) the total number of finalised defendants were men aged less than 35 years. Men in the 20-24 year age group had the highest number of finalised defendants in both the Higher Courts (3,095) and Magistrates' Courts (97,034) while the 35-44 year age group was the highest for women in both the Higher Courts (476) and Magistrates' Courts (23,850) (graphs 11.27 and 11.28).

11.27 DEFENDANTS FINALISED IN HIGHER COURTS(a) - 2004-05


11.28 DEFENDANTS FINALISED IN MAGISTRATES' COURTS(a) - 2004-05


ADJUDICATED DEFENDANTS - PRINCIPAL OFFENCE

Defendants were more likely to be adjudicated in the Higher Courts during 2004-05 for the following categories of principal offences that fall within the Division of the Australian Criminal Standard Offence Classification (ASOC): acts intended to cause injury (21%); illicit drug offences (16%); sexual assault and related offences (13%); unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter; and robbery, extortion and related offences (both 11%) (table 11.29). There were 10,328 (72%) defendants adjudicated by the Higher Courts with a principal offence in one of these five categories.


11.29 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN HIGHER COURTS, Principal offence - 2004-05

ASOC Division(a)
Age group (years)

Under 20
20-29
30-44
45 and over
Total(b)

Homicide and related offences
33
167
167
72
441
Acts intended to cause injury
315
1,354
1,109
260
3,043
Sexual assault and related offences
103
382
697
632
1,816
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
43
203
153
47
446
Abduction and related offences
12
43
50
10
117
Robbery, extortion and related offences
286
813
350
68
1,525
Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter
236
814
509
63
1,622
Theft and related offences
71
256
227
83
638
Deception and related offences
14
266
436
300
1,018
Illicit drug offences
56
740
1,049
476
2,322
Weapons and explosives offences
6
51
46
22
125
Property damage and environmental pollution
49
149
101
47
348
Public order offences
19
91
88
52
251
Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences
-
3
-
-
3
Offences against justice procedures, government security
and government operations
19
123
110
49
303
Miscellaneous offences
9
107
148
54
335
All offence categories(c)
1,273
5,586
5,270
2,251
14,428

(a) Classified according to Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) 1997.
(b) Includes organisations and persons with unknown age.
(c) Includes defendants for whom offence data were missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia, 2004-05 (4513.0).


In contrast, the five categories of principal offence that accounted for the majority of adjudicated defendants in the Magistrates' Courts in 2004-05 were: road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences (46%); public order offences (9%); dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons (8%); theft and related offences, and acts intended to cause injury (both 7%). Overall, approximately three out of every four defendants adjudicated in the Magistrates' Courts had one of these five categories of principal offence (table 11.30).


11.30 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN MAGISTRATES' COURTS, Principal offence - 2004-05
Age group (years)

ASOC Division(a)
Under 20
20-29
30-44
45 and over
Total(b)

Homicide and related offences
10
39
37
27
113
Acts intended to cause injury
2,889
12,856
13,798
4,096
33,709
Sexual assault and related offences
50
189
342
265
853
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
5,635
15,520
10,635
5,198
37,192
Abduction and related offences
3
15
7
5
32
Robbery, extortion and related offences
83
139
88
13
326
Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter
1,300
3,048
1,839
207
6,420
Theft and related offences
5,670
14,110
11,111
4,117
35,134
Deception and related offences
1,754
6,854
6,003
2,275
17,313
Illicit drug offences
2,661
11,557
10,280
2,789
27,311
Weapons and explosives offences
664
2,104
2,097
1,140
6,017
Property damage and environmental pollution
2,305
4,977
3,392
824
11,754
Public order offences
7,816
18,655
13,442
4,382
45,349
Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences
17,802
82,235
71,967
35,965
224,676
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
3,361
10,898
11,573
4,101
32,563
Miscellaneous offences
683
3,042
3,896
1,975
14,405
All offence categories(c)
52,693
186,277
160,549
67,401
493,297

(a) Classified according to Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) 1997.
(b) Includes organisations, and persons with unknown age.
(c) Includes defendants for whom offence data were missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia, 2004-05 (4513.0).


When defendants with a principal offence related to traffic are excluded from the adjudicated population in the Magistrates' Courts, the five categories of principal offences that accounted for the majority of defendants nationally 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%) (graph 11.31).

11.31 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED, Selected principal offences(a) - 2004-05 11.31 DEFENDATS ADJUDICATED, Selected principal offences(a) - 2004-05


In the Higher Courts, the most prevalent principal offence was acts intended to cause injury (21% for men and 22% for women) (graph 11.32). Proportionally, more women were adjudicated for the principal offence of deception and related offences (18%) than were men (6%). In contrast, there were proportionally more men than women with a principal offence of sexual assault and related offences (14% and 2% respectively).

11.32 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN HIGHER COURTS, Selected principal offences(a)(b) - 2004-05 11.32 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN HIGHER COURTS, Selected principal offences(a)(b) - 2004-05


Nationally, the proportions of principal offences for defendants adjudicated were different across age groups in the Higher Courts. Defendants aged less than 25 years were more likely to be adjudicated for a principal offence of: acts intended to cause injury (25%); robbery, extortion and related offences (18%); and unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter (17%). Those within the age group of 45 years and over were more likely to be adjudicated for: sexual assault and related offences (28%); illicit drug offences (21%); and deception and related offences (13%) (graph 11.33).

11.33 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN HIGHER COURTS, Selected principal offences by selected age groups(a)(b) - 2004-05 11.33 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN HIGHER COURTS, Selected principal offences by selected age groups(a)(b) - 2004-05


In the Magistrates' Court, the proportion of defendants with a principal offence of road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences tended to increase with age. This was the principal offence category for 40% of adjudicated defendants aged 24 years and under, increasing to 53% for defendants aged 45 years and over.

Excluding traffic offences, defendants aged less than 25 years were more likely to be adjudicated for a principal offence in the categories of public order offences (24%) and theft and related offences (17%). Those 45 years and over were more likely to be adjudicated for public order offences (17%) and acts intended to cause injury, theft and related offences, and offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations (all 16%) (graph 11.34).

11.34 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN MAGISTRATES COURTS(a)(b)(c), Selected principal offences by selected age groups - 2004-05 11.34 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN MAGIST5RATES' COURTS(a)(b)(c), Selected principal offences by selected age groups - 2004-05


ADJUDICATED DEFENDANTS BY TYPE OF ADJUDICATION

Nationally, 91% (14,428) of adjudicated defendants were proven guilty or pleaded guilty in the Higher Courts, while the rate in the Magistrates' Courts was 96% (493,297).

Of the 2,796 adjudicated defendants that had a trial outcome in the Higher Courts, 55% (1,537) were found guilty while 45% (1,259) were acquitted (table 11.35). The majority (81% or 11,632) had a guilty plea. Only 3% (19,309) of adjudicated defendants that had a trial outcome in the Magistrates' Courts were acquitted.

Defendants adjudicated in the Higher Courts were most likely to be acquitted for the principal offences of sexual assault and related offences (24%) and homicide and related offences (18%), whereas defendants adjudicated in the Magistrates' Courts were most likely to be acquitted for homicide and related offences (31%) and abduction and related offences (28%).

The principal offences in the Higher Courts that had the highest proportion of defendants finalised with a plea of guilty were weapons and explosives offences and unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter (both 91%). In contrast, adjudicated defendants with a principal offence of homicide and related offences and sexual assault and related offences were least likely to plead guilty (50% and 58% respectively) and therefore, most likely to have a trial outcome (acquittal or guilty verdict).

Defendants with a principal offence of illicit drug offences had the highest proportion of defendants either pleading guilty or proven guilty in the Higher Courts (97%). Defendants with a principal offence of dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons and illicit drug offences both had the highest proportion of defendants either pleading guilty or proven guilty in the Magistrates' Courts (99%).


11.35 ADJUDICATED DEFENDANTS, Principal offence and adjudication type - 2004-05

ASOC Division(a)
Higher Courts
Magistrates' Courts


Acquitted
Guilty
verdict
Guilty
plea
Total
Acquitted
Proven
guilty(b)
Total

Homicide and related offences
80
140
221
441
35
78
113
Acts intended to cause injury
290
276
2,477
3,043
2,862
30,847
33,709
Sexual assault and related offences
433
330
1,053
1,816
193
660
853
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
29
33
384
446
455
36,737
37,192
Abduction and related offences
16
21
80
117
9
23
32
Robbery, extortion and related offences
82
151
1,292
1,525
54
272
326
Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter
61
91
1,470
1,622
218
6,202
6,420
Theft and related offences
27
54
557
638
768
34,366
35,134
Deception and related offences
43
61
914
1,018
401
16,912
17,313
Illicit drug offences
67
240
2,015
2,322
281
27,030
27,311
Weapons and explosives offences
7
4
114
125
120
5,897
6,017
Property damage and environmental pollution
34
33
281
348
268
11,486
11,754
Public order offences
19
27
205
251
2,275
43,074
45,349
Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences
-
-
3
3
9,702
214,974
224,676
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
14
34
255
303
1,016
31,547
32,563
Miscellaneous offences
16
38
281
335
637
13,768
14,405
All offence categories(c)
1,259
1, 537
11,632
14,428
19,309
473,988
493,297

(a) Classified according to Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) 1997.
(b) Includes guilty finding, guilty plea, guilty ex-parte and guilty n.f.d.
(c) Includes defendants for whom offence data are missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia, 2004-05 (4513.0).


DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY - PRINCIPAL SENTENCE

Defendants proven guilty in the Higher Courts were more likely to receive custodial orders (i.e. custody in a correctional institution or the community or fully suspended sentences) compared with those in the Magistrates' Courts (81% and 9% respectively) (table 11.36). Acts of a more serious nature are usually dealt with in a Higher Court and are, therefore, far more likely to incur a custodial sentence.

Defendants proven guilty in the Higher Courts for homicide and related offences; robbery, extortion and related offences; and sexual assault and related offences incurred the highest proportion of custodial orders (96%, 92% and 88% respectively). Defendants proven guilty for theft and related offences in the Higher Courts incurred the highest proportion of non-custodial sentences (34%).


11.36 DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY, Principal offence and sentence - 2004-05

ASOC Division(a)
Higher Courts
Magistrates' Courts


Custody in
corrections/
community
Fully
suspended
sentences
Non-custodial
orders
Total
(b)(c)
Custodial
orders(d)
Monetary
orders
Other
non-custodial(e)
Total(c)

Homicide and related offences
324
23
13
361
11
28
36
78
Acts intended to cause injury
1,602
520
628
2,753
7,596
11,815
11,250
30,847
Sexual assault and related offences
1,024
189
169
1,383
288
149
213
660
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering
persons
231
68
117
417
1,767
31,583
3,341
36,737
Abduction and related offences
69
19
13
101
11
5
7
23
Robbery, extortion and related offences
1,153
178
111
1,443
149
27
85
272
Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break
and enter
990
247
324
1,561
3,274
968
1,888
6,202
Theft and related offences
278
126
207
611
5,964
18,187
10,042
34,366
Deception and related offences
559
178
204
975
2,658
8,783
5,415
16,912
Illicit drug offences
1,416
494
341
2,255
2,460
19,003
5,498
27,030
Weapons and explosives offences
81
22
15
118
624
4,015
1,214
5,897
Property damage and environmental
pollution
162
47
103
314
945
7,185
3,303
11,486
Public order offences
103
48
70
232
1,106
27,857
13,855
43,074
Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory
offences
-
-
3
3
10,022
180,851
23,420
214,974
Offences against justice procedures,
government security and operations
126
86
77
289
3,385
22,310
5,722
31,547
Miscellaneous offences
153
44
113
319
858
10,147
2,699
13,768
All offence categories(f)
8,272
2,289
2,508
13,169
41,124
342,947
87,990
473,988

(a) Classified according to Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) 1997.
(b) Includes custodial orders not further defined.
(c) Includes defendants for whom a principal sentence is unknown.
(d) Includes fully suspended sentences.
(e) Includes community supervision/work orders and other non-custodial orders.
(f) Includes defendants for whom offence data are missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia, 2004-05 (4513.0).


Defendants proven guilty in the Magistrates' Courts predominantly received non-custodial sentences for all principal offences except for robbery, extortion and related offences (55% custodial) and unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter (53% custodial) (table 11.36).

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