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1318.3 - Qld Stats, Apr 2009  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 20/04/2009   
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CRIMINAL COURTS IN QUEENSLAND, 2007-08

INTRODUCTION
HIGHER COURTS
MAGISTRATES' COURTS
CHILDREN'S COURTS
FURTHER INFORMATION


INTRODUCTION

There are three levels of criminal jurisdiction in Queensland: Higher Courts, Magistrates' Courts and Children's Courts.

Serious criminal matters such as murder, manslaughter and drug trafficking as well as serious sexual offences, robberies and assaults are dealt with in the Supreme Courts in every state and territory. Queensland also has an intermediate court known as the District Court which deals with the majority of serious criminal offences. Similar intermediate courts also exist in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Supreme Courts and District Courts are herein referred to collectively as Higher Courts. Defendants in Higher Courts are entitled to trial before a judge and jury although the defendant may elect to have the matter heard before a judge alone.

The lowest level of criminal court in Queensland is the Magistrates' Court. Cases heard in the Magistrates' Courts do not involve a jury as a magistrate determines the guilt or innocence of the defendant. This is known as a summary proceeding. The majority of criminal cases are heard in these courts.

Each state and territory has Children's Courts to deal with offences alleged to have been committed by young people. Generally these are summary proceedings. In Queensland, there are two types of Children's Courts: the Children's Court which is a specially set up Magistrates' Court that deals with simple offences and is closed to the public; and the Children's Court of Queensland, which is a special District Court without a jury. This court has power to deal with indictable offences where the accused is aged under 17 years. In Queensland, defendants aged 17 years or over at the time of the offence are considered to be adults and do not appear in Children's Courts. In all other states and territories defendants are considered to be an adult only when aged 18 years and over. Where a person aged under 17 years at the time the offence was committed, is accused of an indictable offence, the accused can choose whether to be dealt with in the Children's Court or to be tried in the District Court or Supreme Court.

State legislation determines which types of offences may be heard summarily or otherwise in Magistrates' Courts and Children's Courts and which must be referred to a Higher Court.

SUMMARY CHARACTERISTICS OF DEFENDANTS, Queensland, 2007-08
(a) Defendants will be counted twice where they are transferred from one of the three court levels and then finalised within the same reference period.
(b) Also includes transfers to other courts. Non-adjudicated methods of finalisations include cases where a charge is withdrawn by the prosecution, where a defendant dies or is deemed unfit to plead.


In 2007-08, there were a total of 165,883 defendants finalised in Queensland's criminal courts. Across all court levels: 1,305 (0.8%) defendants were acquitted; 150,383 (91%) were proven guilty; and 9,820 (5.9%) had their charges withdrawn by the prosecution.

Of those defendants proven guilty, 12,633 (8.4%) were sentenced to a custodial order, and 137,750 (92%) were sentenced to a non-custodial order (includes community supervision or work orders, monetary orders, and other non-custodial orders).

HIGHER COURTS

Higher Courts in Queensland comprise the Supreme Courts and the District Courts. These courts try and sentence matters relating to indictable and serious criminal offences.

Snapshot
  • In 2007-08 there were 6,070 defendants finalised in Higher Courts in Queensland, an increase of 2.2% from 2006-07 (5,937), and a decrease of 16% from 2001-02 (7,230).
  • Between 2001-02 and 2007-08, the proportion of female defendants has varied between one in six and one in seven defendants.
  • Between 2006-07 and 2007-08, the number of defendants proven guilty of sexual assault and related offences decreased from 559 to 537. However, the number sentenced to custody in a correctional institution, increased from 339 to 402.
  • Of the 4,949 defendants adjudicated in the Higher Courts in 2007-08, the majority (4,698 or 95%) were proven guilty. Of those proven guilty, 4,420 (94%) pleaded guilty and 278 (5.9%) were found guilty following a trial.
  • Of the 4,698 defendants proven guilty, 3,707 (79%) were sentenced to custodial orders. Of these defendants proven guilty, 62% were sentenced to custody in a correctional institution, 4.0% were sentenced to custody in the community, and 13% received a fully suspended sentence.
HIGHER COURTS: OUTCOMES, Queensland, 2001–02 to 2007–08


Defendants Finalised

During 2007-08, Higher Courts in Queensland dealt with 6,070 defendants, of which 251 were acquitted and 1,108 had charges withdrawn. Males constituted 85% of defendants finalised and females 15%.

There were 4,698 defendants proven guilty (by finding of the court or guilty plea), 62% of whom were sentenced to custody in a correctional institution.

In 2007-08, 1,108 (18%) defendants finalised in the Higher Courts had charges withdrawn by the prosecution. Of these defendants whose charges were withdrawn by the prosecution, 41% received this finalisation at over 52 weeks.

The principal offence with the largest number of defendants with charges withdrawn by the prosecution in 2007-08 was acts intended to cause injury (337), followed by sexual assault and related offences (272). Principal offences with the largest proportions of defendants with charges withdrawn were: homicide and related offences (36%); abduction and related offences (32%), and sexual assault and related offences (29%). Withdrawal of charges is a non-adjudicated method of finalisation and allows the prosecution to charge the defendant on the same incident at a later time.

HIGHER COURTS: PROPORTION OF CHARGES WITHDRAWN, SELECTED PRINCIPAL OFFENCES, Queensland, 2007-08




Defendants Adjudicated

There were 4,949 defendants adjudicated in Queensland Higher Courts in 2007-08, the most common charges were: acts intended to cause injury (1,418); illicit drug offences (829); and sexual assault and related offences (660).

In 2007-08, the proportion of defendants found guilty by the court (5.6%) and acquitted by the court (5.1%) were comparable. The majority (89%) of defendants adjudicated in the Higher Courts pleaded guilty.

HIGHER COURTS: PROPORTION OF DEFENDANTS PLEADING GUILTY BY DURATION, Queensland, 2007-08


Defendants Proven Guilty

During 2007-08, of those defendants found guilty: 13% received fully suspended sentences; 4% received custody in the community orders; and 62% were given prison sentences. Non-custodial orders (fines, community supervision/work orders, restitution, etc.) were given to 21% of defendants proven guilty.

MAGISTRATES' COURTS

Magistrates' Courts operate in all states and territories and try and sentence criminal matters relating to summary offences (such as traffic offences and disorderly behaviour) and hear indictable offences summarily.

Magistrates' Courts data presented here exclude matters which do not require the adjudication of charges. Also excluded are breach of bail or parole cases, appeal cases, tribunal matters and defendants for whom a bench warrant is issued, but not executed.

Snapshot
  • During 2007-08, a total of 152,368 defendants were finalised in Queensland Magistrates' Courts. This is an increase of 18% since 2003-04 when there were 129,029 defendants finalised.
  • In 2007-08, the majority of defendants were finalised for road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences (51,624 or 34%), followed by public order offences (26,127 or 17%)
  • The proportion of males finalised has been stable at 78% since 2003-04. In 2007-08, 119,483 males, 31,765 females and 666 organisations were finalised in Queensland Magistrates' Courts.
  • During 2007-08, 140,167 or 92% of defendants were adjudicated in Queensland Magistrates' Courts. Non-adjudicated finalisations include transfers to other courts (4,017 or 2.6%) and withdrawn by the prosecution (8,181 or 5.4%). Other possible non-adjudicated finalisations include transfers to non-court agencies, defendant unfit to plead and defendant deceased.
  • Of the 140,167 defendants adjudicated in Queensland Magistrates' Courts, 139,169 or 99% were found guilty.
  • Of the 139,169 defendants found guilty, 130,164 or 94% received non-custodial orders.


Defendants Finalised

The majority of all criminal cases are finalised in Magistrates' Courts. In Queensland in 2007-08, there were 152,368 defendants finalised, including 666 organisations. A total of 998 defendants were acquitted, 139,169 proven guilty and 8,181 had charges withdrawn by the prosecution, while 4,017 were transferred to other courts. Nearly two thirds of defendants had cases (100,279 or 66%) finalised in under 6 weeks with 82% finalised in under 13 weeks.


Defendants Adjudicated

The largest proportion of the 140,167 defendants adjudicated in Magistrates' Courts were charged with road traffic and motor regulatory offences (35%) followed by public order offences (18%). Males in the younger age groups were more than four times as likely than females to appear before the court. For all age groups, 78% were males and 21% females (0.6% were organisations).

MAGISTRATES' COURTS DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED, by sex and age, Queensland, 2007-08


Defendants Proven Guilty

During 2007-08, 139,169 defendants were proven guilty and 81% were given monetary orders. Community supervision/work orders were given to 5.6% of defendants proven guilty while another 5.6% received good behaviour bonds. Prison sentences were given to 3.6% and 2.3% received fully suspended custodial orders.

The majority of defendants adjudicated (99%) were proven guilty. The sexual assault and related offences group was notably different from other principal offence categories in that 85% of defendants adjudicated were proven guilty.

The principal offence groups with the highest proportion of custodial sentences were unlawful entry with intent (36%), sexual assault and related offences (32%) and acts intended to cause injury (25%).

DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY, Type of sentence by selected principal offence , Queensland, 2007-08

CHILDREN'S COURTS

In all states and territories, children under 10 years of age cannot be charged with a criminal offence. In Queensland, defendants aged 17 years at the time of the offence are considered adults and do not appear in Children's Courts. In all other states and territories the age at which an offender is considered adult is 18 years.

Snapshot
  • There were 7,448 defendants finalised in Children's Courts in Queensland in 2007-08, a decrease of 3.3% from the 7,699 finalised in 2006-07.
  • Males accounted for 78% of finalisations
  • The majority of defendants finalised (87% or 6,516) were proven guilty, 0.8% were acquitted, 4.6% were transferred to other courts and 7.1% had charges withdrawn.
  • Of the 6,572 defendants adjudicated in Children's Courts in Queensland in 2007-08, 99% were proven guilty.
  • Of the defendants proven guilty, the majority (94%) received non-custodial orders.


Defendants Finalised

There were 7,448 defendants finalised in 2007-08. The most common charges laid were theft and related offences (1,424), followed by unlawful entry with intent (1,378) and public order offences (1,102).

Charges were withdrawn for 531 defendants, while 56 were acquitted and 342 were transferred to other courts.


Defendants Adjudicated

Of the 6,572 defendants adjudicated in Children's Courts in 2007-08, the largest proportion of defendants were charged with theft and related offences (20%), followed by unlawful entry with intent (19%) and public order offences (16%).

CHILDREN'S COURTS DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED, Selected principal offence, Queensland, 2006-07 and 2007-08

Sentence Outcomes

Of the 6,516 defendants proven guilty in Children's Courts in 2007-08, 5.7% received a custodial order, 44% were given community supervision/work orders, 14% received good behaviour bonds and 5.6% received a monetary order and 30% received other non-custodial orders (licence disqualification/suspension/amendment, forfeiture of property and nominal penalties).

FURTHER INFORMATION

Further information, including treatment of defendants charged with multiple offences or receiving multiple sentences, the Method of Finalisation Classification, the Australian Standard Offence Classification (1997), the National Offence Index and the Sentence Type Classification and comparable information for other states and territories is available in Criminal Courts, Australia (cat. no. 4513.0).

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