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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2008  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 07/02/2008   
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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 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 13.14), 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.


13.14 Hierarcy of courts
Diagram: 13.14 Hierarcy 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 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 any criminal matter. 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 13.15 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 2005-06, 586,202 defendants were finalised in the Higher and Magistrates' Courts. Of these, 16,319 (3%) were heard in the Higher Courts and 569,883 (97%) were heard in the Magistrates' Courts.

Of those defendants finalised in the Higher Courts, 14,163 (87%) 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 2,156 (13%) 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.

Of those defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Courts 510,069 (90%) were adjudicated. The remaining 59,813 (10%) were finalised by non-adjudicated methods.

13.15 Criminal court finalisations - 2005-06
Diagram: 13.15 Criminal court finalisations—2005–06


Criminal courts finalisations

For all court levels, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria together accounted for 70% of finalisations nationally (28%, 25% and 17% respectively). Queensland accounted for the highest proportion of finalisations for the Higher Courts (37%) and New South Wales the highest proportion of finalisations in the Magistrates' Courts (28%) (table 13.16).

13.16 CRIMINAL COURT FINALISATIONS(a) - 2005-06

Higher Criminal Courts
Magistrates' Criminal Courts

New South Wales(b)
3 371
159 539
Victoria
2 303
96 002
Queensland
6 118
142 543
South Australia
989
45 164
Western Australia
2 510
69 592
Tasmania(c)
536
42 717
Northern Territory
326
8 881
Australian Capital Territory
166
5 445
Australia
16 319
569 883

(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) Defendant counts in the Magistrates' Courts include a small number of non-original matters.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia (4513.0).


The majority of finalised defendants (88% or 14,282) in the Higher Courts during 2005-06 were men. More than 60% (8,755) of finalised male defendants were aged less than 35 years. Similarly, more than 60% (1,231) of the 2,021 female defendants finalised in the Higher Courts in 2005-06, were aged less than 35 years (graph 13.17).

13.17 Defendants finalised in higher courts(a), by age - 2005-06
Graph: 13.17 Defendants finalised in higher courts(a), by age—2005–06

In the Magistrates' Courts during 2005-06, men comprised the majority of finalised defendants (79% or 441,406) while women comprised 21% (116,057). More than 57% (66,385) of women and 63% (278,085) of men were aged less than 35 years. Among men, those in the 20-24 age group comprised the largest group of Magistrates' Court defendants (100,725), while for women, those in the 35-44 age group were the largest group (24,790) (graphs 13.18).

13.18 Defendants finalised in Magistrates' Courts(a), by age - 2005-06
Graph: 13.18 Defendants finalised in Magistrates' Courts(a), by age—2005–06



Adjudicated defendants - principal offence

During 2005-06, defendants were more likely to be adjudicated in the Higher Courts for the following categories of principal offence: acts intended to cause injury (23%); illicit drug offences (17%); sexual assault and related offences (14%); robbery, extortion and related offences (11%); and unlawful entry with intent (10%) (table 13.19). Defendants adjudicated by the Higher Courts with a principal offence in one of these five categories accounted for 73% (10,375) of the total.
13.19 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN HIGHER COURTS, Principal offence - 2005-06

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

Homicide and related offences
22
188
184
77
471
Acts intended to cause injury
311
1 387
1 189
306
3 193
Sexual assault and related offences
107
467
695
642
1 914
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
33
212
146
46
440
Abduction and related offences
5
64
58
15
142
Robbery, extortion and related offences
257
797
380
50
1 484
Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter
156
680
481
61
1 378
Theft and related offences
35
186
179
80
480
Deception and related offences
12
200
335
244
795
Illicit drug offences
45
795
1 090
473
2 406
Weapons and explosives offences
3
48
60
21
132
Property damage and environmental pollution
52
147
129
28
359
Public order offences
37
108
86
53
284
Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences
-
3
3
-
6
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
15
107
101
54
280
Miscellaneous offences
11
94
131
72
323
All offence categories(c)
1 105
5 517
5 276
2 233
14 165

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


In contrast, the five categories of principal offence that accounted for the majority of adjudicated defendants in the Magistrates' Courts in 2005-06 were: road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences (44%); public order offences (10%); dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons (8%); acts intended to cause injury (7%) and theft and related offences (6%). Overall, approximately three out of every four defendants adjudicated in the Magistrates' Courts had one of these five categories of principal offence (table 13.20).When defendants with a principal offence related to traffic are excluded, the five categories of principal offence that accounted for the majority of defendants nationally in the Magistrates' Court were: public order offences (20%); acts intended to cause injury (16%); theft and related offences and offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations (both 13%); and illicit drug offences (12%).

13.20 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN MAGISTRATES' COURTS, Principal offence - 2005-06

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

Homicide and related offences
11
31
48
37
130
Acts intended to cause injury
3 190
14 185
15 178
4 634
37 268
Sexual assault and related offences
37
224
345
277
886
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
6 107
17 913
11 974
5 671
41 894
Abduction and related offences
-
6
9
4
19
Robbery, extortion and related offences
59
157
70
16
302
Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter
1 568
3 367
2 079
266
7 300
Theft and related offences
5 063
13 201
10 587
3 847
32 792
Deception and related offences
1 536
6 907
6 347
2 570
17 761
Illicit drug offences
2 659
11 419
10 345
2 926
27 367
Weapons and explosives offences
775
2 206
2 283
1 283
6 561
Property damage and environmental pollution
2 553
5 918
4 002
963
13 671
Public order offences
8 364
22 320
15 405
4 934
51 947
Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences
17 623
83 759
71 739
36 455
225 295
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
2 687
10 112
11 205
4 633
32 575
Miscellaneous offences
556
2 825
3 631
2 011
13 985
All offence categories(c)
52 802
194 631
165 336
70 595
510 067

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

In the Higher Courts, the most prevalent principal offence for both men and women was acts intended to cause injury (22% for men and 24% for women) (graph 13.21). Proportionally, more women were adjudicated for the principal offence of deception and related offences (14%) than were men (4%). In contrast, there were proportionally more men than women with a principal offence of sexual assault and related offences (15% and 2% respectively).

13.21 Defendants adjudicated in higher courts, selected principal offences(a)(b) - 2005-06
Graph: 13.21 Defendants adjudicated in higher courts, selected^principal offences(a)(b)—2005–06

The proportions of principal offence 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 (26%); robbery, extortion and related offences (18%); and unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter (13%). Those within the age group of 45 years and over were more likely to be adjudicated for: sexual assault and related offences (29%) and illicit drug offences (21%) (graph 13.22).

13.22 Defendants adjudicated in highercourts, selected principal offences by selected age groups(a)(b) - 2005-06
Graph: 13.22 Defendants adjudicated in highercourts, selected principal^offences by selected age groups(a)(b)—2005–06
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 less than 25 years, increasing to 52% for defendants aged 45 years and over.

Excluding traffic offences, defendants aged less than 25 years were more likely to be adjudicated for the principal offence of public order (27%) and theft and related offences (15%). Defendants aged between 26-44 years recorded higher proportions of adjudications than other age groups for acts intended to cause injury (18%) and illicit drug offences (13%). Those 45 years and over were more likely to be adjudicated for public order offences (17%) and acts intended to cause injury and offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations (both 16%) (graph 13.23).

13.23 Defendants adjudicated in Magistrates' Courts, selected principal offences by selected age groups(a)(b) - 2005-06
Graph: 13.23 Defendants adjudicated in Magistrates' Courts, selected^principal offences by selected age groups(a)(b)—2005–06

Adjudicated defendants by type of adjudication

Nationally, 91% (12,914) of adjudicated defendants were found guilty or pleaded guilty in the Higher Courts, while the rate in the Magistrates' Courts was 96% (488,382). Acquittals accounted for 9% (1,249) of adjudicated defendants in the Higher Courts and 4% (21,687) for the Magistrates' Courts (table 13.24).

Of the 2,809 adjudicated defendants that had a trial outcome (i.e an acquittal or a guilty verdict) in the Higher Courts, 56% (1,560) were found guilty while 44% (1,249) were acquitted. The majority of adjudicated defendants in the Higher Courts (80% or 11,354) and in the Magistrates' Courts (73% or 372,917) made a guilty plea.

Defendants adjudicated in the Higher Courts were most likely to be acquitted for the principal offences of sexual assault and related offences (23%) and homicide and related offences (22%); whereas defendants adjudicated in the Magistrates' Courts were most likely to be acquitted for abduction and related offences (61%), homicide and related offences (42%) and sexual assault and related offences (23%).

13.24 ADJUDICATED DEFENDANTS, Principal offence and adjudication type - 2005-06

Higher Courts
Magistrates' Courts
ASOC Division(b)
Acquitted
Guilty verdict
Guilty plea
Total
Acquitted
Proven guilty(a)
Total

Homicide(c)
102
135
234
471
54
74
128
Acts intended to cause injury
270
301
2 622
3 193
3 500
33 769
37 269
Sexual assault(c)
449
319
1 146
1 914
202
684
886
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
21
36
386
443
604
41 290
41 894
Abduction(c)
15
26
101
142
14
9
23
Robbery and extortion(c)
96
134
1 255
1 485
53
250
303
Unlawful entry with intent
49
98
1 231
1 378
245
7 053
7 298
Theft(c)
20
50
411
481
850
31 942
32 792
Deception(c)
28
70
696
794
480
17 281
17 761
Illicit drug offences
74
256
2 075
2 405
299
27 069
27 368
Weapons and explosives offences
5
5
122
132
90
6 470
6 560
Property damage
22
27
308
357
420
13 251
13 671
Public order offences
6
27
251
284
3 866
48 081
51 947
Road traffic offences(d)
-
-
5
5
8 970
216 325
225 295
Offences against justice(e)
26
27
226
279
1 181
31 394
32 575
Miscellaneous offences
35
36
250
321
817
13 168
13 985
All offence categories(f)
1 248
1 560
11 356
14 164
21 687
488 382
510 069

- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
(a) Includes guilty finding, guilty plea, guilty ex-parte and guilty n.f.d.
(b) Classified according to Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) 1997.
(c) Includes related offences.
(d) Includes motor vehicle regulatory offences.
(e) Includes offences against justice procedures, government security and operations.
(f) Includes defendants for whom offence data are missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia (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 (82% and 9% respectively) (table 13.25). 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 (99%, 92% and 89% respectively). Defendants proven guilty for road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences and public order offences in the Higher Courts incurred the highest proportion of non-custodial sentences (100% and 44% respectively).

Defendants proven guilty in the Magistrates' Courts predominantly received non-custodial sentences for all principal offences except for robbery, extortion and related offences (54% custodial) and unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter (53% custodial).

13.25 DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY, Principal offence and sentence - 2005-06

Higher Courts
Magistrates' Courts
ASOC Division(e)
Custody in corrections/ community
Fully suspended sentences
Non-
custodial orders
Total(a)(b)
Custodial orders(c)
Monetary orders
Other non-
custodial
(d)
Total(b)

Homicide(f)
332
31
5
368
20
25
26
71
Acts intended to cause injury
1 655
656
611
2 922
8 597
11 759
13 373
33 772
Sexual assault(f)
1 069
234
162
1 465
270
161
253
688
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
234
92
90
416
2 199
35 066
4 012
41 291
Abduction(f)
76
24
28
128
-
6
3
9
Robbery and extortion(f)
1 091
190
106
1 390
134
27
79
250
Unlawful entry with intent
850
260
219
1 329
3 720
1 144
2 174
7 052
Theft(f)
222
108
131
461
5 628
16 200
10 005
31 943
Deception(f)
404
223
139
766
2 550
8 739
5 977
17 281
Illicit drug offences
1 338
660
333
2 331
2 265
17 243
7 546
27 067
Weapons and explosives offences
54
44
28
126
586
4 389
1 490
6 474
Property damage
156
75
104
335
1 007
8 324
3 898
13 249
Public order offences
91
66
122
279
1 077
32 357
14 620
48 081
Road traffic offences(g)
-
-
4
4
10 459
180 922
24 847
216 325
Offences against justice(h)
103
75
75
253
2 710
22 163
6 503
31 395
Miscellaneous offences
145
41
100
286
945
9 427
2 783
13 167
All offence categories(i)
7 820
2 779
2 257
12 909
42 197
348 098
97 638
488 387

- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
(a) Includes custodial orders not further defined.
(b) Includes defendants for whom a principal sentence is unknown.
(c) Includes fully suspended sentences.
(d) Includes community supervision/work orders and other non-custodial orders.
(e) Classified according to Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) 1997.
(f) Includes related offences.
(g) Includes motor vehicle regulatory offences.
(h) Includes offences against justice procedures, government security and operations. For Queensland Magistrates' Courts, includes assault police.
(i) Includes defendants for whom offence data are missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia (4513.0).





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