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1387.3 - Queensland in Review, 2003  
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PICTURE SHOWING THE HIERARCHY OF AUTHORITY IN QUEENSLAND COURTS OF LAW EXERCISING CRIMINAL JURISDICTION.



COURTS AND TRIBUNALS

The Supreme Court of Queensland

The Supreme Court of Queensland comprises the Chief Justice, five Court of Appeal judges and 17 Trial Division judges, who are stationed in Brisbane, Rockhampton, Cairns and Townsville. Cases are heard in circuit courts in other Queensland locations, when necessary.

The Supreme Court hears criminal cases such as murder, attempted murder, treason and major drug offences. It also deals with civil cases where the claim exceeds $250,000, or when people dispute state government decisions that affect them.

In civil matters, the Trial Division of the Supreme Court hears matters where the amount in issue is in excess of $250,000; matters arising under the cross-vesting legislation and under the Corporations Law; and a multiplicity of other matters including declarations of rights, status of persons and administrative review.

The District Court of Queensland

The District Court of Queensland comprises one Chief Judge and 34 District Court judges, including three in Southport, two in Townsville, two in Cairns, two in Maroochydore, one in Rockhampton, one in Ipswich and one in Beenleigh. In addition to Brisbane, Ipswich, Southport, Rockhampton, Townsville, Cairns, Maroochydore and Beenleigh, District Courts may be convened in 23 other centres throughout Queensland at various times during the year.

The District Court has three main functions:
  • It deals with indictable offences, which are too serious for the Magistrates Court to hear, such as armed robbery, rape and dangerous driving.
  • It deals with more serious civil disputes where the amount of money involved is between $50,000 and $250,000.
  • It hears all appeals from decisions made in the Magistrates Court.
The District Court hears more than 8000 criminal and 1500 civil cases each year.

Magistrates Court

A Magistrates Court is usually constituted by a magistrate sitting alone. There are 75 magistrates in Queensland. Magistrates are stationed at major country centres and travel on circuit to hold courts at smaller centres.

More than 90% of people who appear before a Queensland court appear in the Magistrates Court and up to 96% of criminal matters are dealt with there. About 170,000 criminal cases and over 100,000 civil cases are lodged with the Magistrates Court each year.

The jurisdiction of Magistrates Courts includes civil matters up to $50,000, Small Claims and Minor Debts up to $7,500, industrial matters, coroner's matters, Family Law and domestic violence matters and Commonwealth offences.

In the criminal area, magistrates hear those indictable offences which are authorised to be so dealt with under the provisions of the Criminal Code.

Small Claims Tribunal

The Small Claims Tribunal deals with a range of disputes. These include disputes between consumers and traders and between traders as well as property damage, residential tenancy matters and various other residential issues. A referee (usually a magistrate) presides in an informal manner, hearing submissions from the parties involved. No legal representation is allowed in the tribunal and no rules of evidence apply. Jurisdiction is limited to situations in which the amount concerned does not exceed $7,500. The referee’s decision is final and binding on all concerned. No appeals are allowed.

Minor debts claims

These hearings deal with debt claims of $7,500 or less. It is a quick, low-cost process which deals with simple matters which do not need to be brought before the Small Claims Tribunal.

Childrens Court of Queensland

There are two types of Childrens Court in Queensland. The Childrens Court which is a specially set-up Magistrates Court is closed to the public and hears simple offences.

The second one, called the Childrens Court of Queensland, is a special District Court without a jury. It deals with cases where the accused is under the age of 17 but the offence is an indictable offence, normally heard in the District Court or the Supreme Court. In this case, the accused can choose whether to be dealt with in the Childrens Court of Queensland, where a Childrens Court judge decides the verdict, or be tried in the District Court or Supreme Court.

If the latter is chosen, the accused will go through the same process as an adult, except that members of the public may not be allowed in to the court and no one is permitted to publish identifying information about the accused.

Other courts

District Court judges preside over various specialist courts including the Planning and Environment Court. The Industrial Magistrates Court is presided over by a magistrate and the Industrial Court and the Mental Health Court (formerly the Mental Health Tribunal) is presided over by a judge of the Supreme Court.

The Coroners Court is a special court set up to hold inquests to determine the cause of death if for some reason it is in doubt or to determine the cause of a fire or explosion even if there were no deaths.

The bulk of traffic offences are dealt with by the SETONS (Self Enforcing Ticketable Offence Notice System) electronic court which came into operation in November 1992. SETONS imposes penalties under the provisions of the Justices Act.


Court Statistics

The Australian Bureau of Statistics provides data on the administration of criminal justice in the Higher (Supreme and Intermediate) Courts of Australia, along with selected data on the characteristics of defendants. Higher Criminal Courts, Australia (cat. no. 4513.0) presents statistics at the national and state / territory level. There is less information for Queensland as court systems changes impacted on the availability of defendant initiations and pendings data.

The Intermediate Courts finalised the majority of all defendants in Queensland finalising 87% and 90% for each of the 5 financial years, 1996-97 to 2000-01. The number of defendants finalised in Queensland has fluctuated over the period with a high of 7,595 in 1998-99 and a low of 6,264 in 1996-97.

DEFENDANTS FINALISED (a), 1996-1997 to 2000-01

Supreme Court
Intermediate Court
Total Higher Courts

1996-1997
743
5,521
6,264
1997-1998
813
5,664
6,477
1998-1999
776
6,819
7,595
1999-2000
856
6,523
7,379
2000-2001
785
6,147
6,932

(a) A finalised defendant is a person or corporation for whom all charges have been formally completed so that the defendant ceases to be an item of work to be dealt with by the Higher Courts.

Source: Higher Criminal Courts, Australia, 2000-2001 (cat. no. 4513.0).


Of all defendants finalised in 2000-01, only 18.6% were Non-Adjudicated. This term refers to the situation where the charge is considered completed and ceases to be active in any Higher Court even though there has not been a determination on whether the defendant is guilty. This includes situations where a charge is withdrawn by the prosecution, the defendant absconds and a bench warrant is issued, and where a defendant is deemed unfit to plead to the charge. In Queensland, the number of bench warrants is not available.

Where adjudication takes place, 94.4% of the defendants finalised are proven guilty and 93.8% of those had entered a guilty plea.

DEFENDANTS FINALISED (a), METHOD OF FINALISATION, 2000-01

Method
Supreme Court
Intermediate Court
Total Higher Courts
Total Higher Courts (%)

Adjudicated
Acquitted
13
301
314
4.5
Proven Guilty
Guilty Verdict
42
287
329
4.7
Guilty Plea
623
4,377
5,000
72.1
Total
665
4,664
5,329
76.9
Total
678
4,965
5,643
81.4
Non-Adjudicated
Withdrawn
107
1,181
1,288
18.6
Other finalisation
-
1
1
-
Total
(b)107
(b)1,182
(b)1,289
(b)18.6
Total
(b)785
(b)6,147
(b)6,932
(b)100.0

- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
.. not applicable
(a) A finalised defendant is a person or corporation for whom all charges have been formally completed so that the defendant ceases to be an item of work to be dealt with by the Higher Courts.
(b) These totals exclude Queensland defendants finalised by a bench warrant being issued.

Source: Higher Criminal Courts, Australia, 2000-2001 (cat. no. 4513.0).


When a comparison is made between the sex and age of defendants finalised in Queensland in 2000-01 and the same characteristics of persons enumerated in Queensland in the 2001 census (excluding overseas visitors), certain differences become evident.

Males accounted for 49.4% of the census count of Queensland but 84.2% of the defendants finalised in the Higher Courts.

In the 2001 Census, 17.9% of persons in Queensland were aged between 17 and 29 whereas 49.7% of finalised defendants were in that age group. Persons aged 30-34 and 35-39 accounted for 7.3% and 7.4% of the Queensland population in 2001, as compared to 12.1% and 9.7% of the defendants finalised in the Higher Courts.

The opposite trend is found amongst older persons counted in Queensland in the 2001 Census with 7.0% in the 45-49 age group and 28.8% aged 50 or over. These two age groups accounted for only 4.6% and 7.8% respectively of defendants finalised in the Higher Courts in 2000-01.


DEFENDANTS FINALISED (a), SEX AND AGE, QUEENSLAND, 2000-01

Male
Female
Total
Age(b)
no.
no.
no.

Persons
Under 17
1
_
1
17-19
823
122
945
20-24
1,148
213
1,361
25-29
943
197
1,140
30-34
680
157
837
35-39
551
119
670
40-44
379
76
455
45-49
269
50
319
50 and over
488
52
540
Unknown
554
106
660
Total
5,836
1,092
6,928
Mean age (years)
31.7
31.0
31.6
Median age (years)
28.5
29.2
28.6
Organisations
..
..
4
Total
..
..
6,932

- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
.. not applicable
(a) A finalised defendant is a person or corporation for whom all charges have been formally completed so that the defendant ceases to be an item of work to be dealt with by the Higher Courts.
(b) Age calculated for persons at the defendant's date of finalisation.

Source: Higher Criminal Courts, Australia, 2000-2001 (cat. no.4513.0).
PERSONS ENUMERATED IN QUEENSLAND (a), SEX AND AGE, 2001 CENSUS

Male
Female
Total
Age
no.
no.
no.

Under 17
444,367
422,075
866,442
17-19
78,073
75,569
153,642
20-24
119,697
117,996
237,693
25-29
123,626
126,054
249,680
30-34
127,307
133,475
260,782
35-39
129,540
136,932
266,472
40-44
131,536
137,552
269,088
45-49
123,076
126,216
249,292
50 and over
498,332
534,216
1,032,548
Total
1,775,554
1,810,085
3,585,639


(a) Excluding overseas visitors

Source: 2001 Census of Population and Housing


Data can be found in the Annual Reports available on the Queensland Courts and High Court of Australia websites and the Federal Court of Australia has an extensive list of 'Legal Research Links'.

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