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Government legislation provides laws, standards and guidelines which define unacceptable behaviour. The criminal justice system enforces these rules, using police forces, the judiciary and corrective services.
Crime can have a major impact on individuals in particular and society in general. Individuals directly affected may suffer physically, psychologically and financially. The flow-on effect from this may be an increase in costs to the criminal justice system, health and community services and to the insurance industry.
Indirectly, there is an increased burden on taxpayers who have to support the government services involved as well as the costs of more insurance, surveillance and security borne by businesses and individuals.
Understanding the factors which may lead to crime and affect crime rates and patterns (e.g. alcohol and age) may help in the development of effective crime prevention strategies. To provide such data, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has a specialist unit called the National Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics.
Queensland, as a 'Code State', has a criminal code and criminal law is mainly based on legislation enacted by the Queensland Parliament.
Unlike the 'Common Law States', Queensland moved away from adopting English common law in the criminal field with the passing of the Criminal Code Act 1899. However, not all the statutory criminal law that applies in Queensland today is contained in the Criminal Code. Some statutes, both Imperial (English) and local, which were enacted before 1899, remain in force and additional legislation relating to crimes has been passed since the introduction of the Criminal Code. Moreover, the Commonwealth Government has powers under the Constitution to make laws relating to criminal offences involving Commonwealth agencies, and can enact overriding legislation where the Commonwealth and states have concurrent powers. The Crimes Act 1914 is the major piece of Commonwealth legislation relating to criminal offences.
The Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 marked the first major reform of a critical aspect of criminal law in more than 90 years. It combines most forms of sentencing available to courts in one Act (previously seven statutes) and provides for consistency of sentences throughout Queensland. In particular, it provides a range of sentences to balance protection of the Queensland community with appropriate punishment and rehabilitation of offenders.
It is likely that the Australian reliance on English common law will diminish generally because of that country's need to enact legislation consistent with European Union conventions. However, there is an increasing tendency to research internationally before new statutes are formulated. For example, account was taken of the experience of the United States when drafting legislation dealing with indigenous issues.
Police agencies are responsible for the prevention, detection and investigation of crimes. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) enforces Commonwealth criminal law, and protects Commonwealth and national interests from crime in Australia and overseas, with a network of liaison officers in more than 20 countries. The AFP is also the chief source of advice to the Australian Government on policing issues. The Queensland Police Service (QPS) aims to serve Queenslanders by preserving peace and safety, preventing crime, protecting life and property and upholding the law with regard both to the public good and the rights of the individual.
On 1 July 2000, after a decade of work, the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 came into effect. It consolidates the powers contained in more than 130 Queensland statutes.
The Queensland Police Service is headed by the Commissioner, with a Deputy Commissioner - the Deputy Chief Executive responsible for operations - and a Deputy Chief Executive responsible for Resource Management.
For the purpose of police administration, the state is divided into eight geographical regions, each under the control of an Assistant Commissioner who reports to the Deputy Commissioner. The regions are divided into districts and divisions. A State Crime Operations Command and an Operations Support Command support police operations state-wide.
Statistics on crime in Queensland are available from this web site on the Recorded Crime page. Information about the Queensland Police Service and their Annual Statistical Reviews are available from their web site.
In Australia, there are federal and state courts. The federal courts are set up under federal laws and tend to deal with matters not covered by state laws. Federal courts include the Family Court which deals with divorce issues, the Federal Court which deals with a wide range of matters including bankruptcy, telecommunications and native title and the High Court. The High Court deals with constitutional and Commonwealth matters and is also the final court of appeal. The state courts handle the vast majority of disputes and offences. There are three levels of state courts which are ranked in order of the seriousness of the cases brought to them. They are the Magistrates Court, the District Court and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court and the District Court sit in Brisbane, Rockhampton, Townsville and Cairns.
The Supreme Court has a branch called the Court of Appeal which only hears appeals. There are two specially set-up courts to hear cases in which the accused is under seventeen. The Childrens Court is at Magistrate level and the Childrens Court of Queensland is a special District Court.
Where an alleged offender is detected by police, charges may then be laid before a criminal court, which determines the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Judicial matters in Queensland are handled by the Supreme, District, Magistrates and Childrens Courts.
A juvenile offender first appears before a Childrens Court and an adult before a Magistrates Court. In Magistrates and Childrens Courts a magistrate or judge determines all questions of law and fact without the assistance of a jury.
A juvenile offender still retains the right to elect to be heard by a judge and a jury in the Supreme Court or District Court. An offender before the Magistrates Court or Childrens Court has the right to appeal to either the District Court or the Court of Appeal.
The Criminal Code and other legislation list the offences that a Magistrates Court can hear. If the matter is unable to be dealt with in the Magistrates Court, it is then committed to either the District or Supreme Court on indictment. The Director of Public Prosecutions can forgo this committal stage by presenting an ex officio indictment directly to the Supreme or District Court.
Supreme and District Court criminal trials are presided over by a judge who determines all questions of law. Questions of fact, including the ultimate question of guilt or innocence, are determined by the decision of a jury of 12 persons. In civil cases, there may be a jury of four people.
The Court of Appeal is the highest court in the Queensland judicial system. Appeals may go to the Court of Appeal in civil and criminal matters. The Court of Appeal is constituted by three judges of the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court.
A more detailed description of the various courts which operate in Queensland is given in the Courts page of this web site.
Further information about the Queensland judicial system is available from the web site of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General. Information about the juvenile justice system is also available from the web site concerning the Youth Justice Program of the Department of Families
Although fines and bonds are the most common penalties handed down by the courts, offenders may be required to serve a period of imprisonment or be placed under community-based supervision. These systems are not just designed to punish but to correct their offending behaviour so that offenders can become functioning members of society on their release.
Queensland prisons are administered by the Director-General of the Department of Corrective Services for the Minister for Police and Corrective Services. Offenders held in custody are accommodated in 14 custodial centres throughout the state.
The majority are run by the Department of Corrective Services. They are Brisbane Womens (Richlands), Capricornia (Rockhampton), Darling Downs, Lotus Glen (Mareeba), the new centre at Maryborough, Moreton (Richlands), Numinbah (Nerang), Palen Creek (Rathdowney), Sir David Longland (Richlands), Townsville, Woodford and Wolston (Richlands). Two others are run by private providers. They are Borallon (Ipswich) and Arthur Gorrie (Darra).
Statistics on prisoners in Queensland are available from this web site in the page Prisoners. The web site of the Department of Corrective Services will also provide further information.
This page last updated 7 July 2006