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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2004  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/02/2004   
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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, that were created because the standard courts were not the best way to address certain types of matters. Examples of these include the Coroners' Courts, Family Court, Federal Magistrates' Court, Drug Courts, Workers' Compensation Commissions/Tribunals, Industrial Relations Commission, Small Claims Tribunals, Administrative Appeals Tribunal and Residential Tenancy Tribunal.

Courts and tribunals tend to be arranged in a hierarchy (diagram 11.16), 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 either 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 right of appeals. Criminal appeals resulting from the Magistrates' Court can be appealed at either 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.

11.16 HIERARCHY OF COURTS
Graphic - 11.16 Hierarchy of courts



(a) In some jurisdictions, appeals from lower courts may go directly to the court of appeal in the Supreme Court. In the ACT, the court of appeal of the Supreme Court commenced exercising limited jurisdiction on 31 October 2001; full jurisdiction did not commence until 14 October 2002.
(b) Appeals from federal, state and territory tribunals may go to any higher court in their jurisdiction.

Source: Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth/State Service Provision, 'Report on Government Services 2003'.

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 courts in Australia are arranged hierarchically. 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. Relatively minor offences such as property damage or minor road traffic offences can be dealt with in this way. 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 offences 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. In Australia, the highest court of appeal for all jurisdictions is the High Court of Australia.

National criminal courts statistics

As well as differences across the states and territories in terms of legislation, court procedures and the type of matters dealt with, there are also variations in data management practices and differences in the information that is collected as part of court processes. The net result of such differences is a lack of readily available nationally comparable data on court activities and the characteristics of people whose matters are handled by the various courts. The aim of the national criminal courts statistics collection undertaken by the ABS is to redress this situation progressively through the application of national data standards and counting rules.

Higher Criminal Courts finalisations

The number of finalisations in the Higher Criminal Courts decreased by less than 1% to 17,997 between 2000-01 and 2001-02. This was the first decrease in finalisations recorded for this collection since 1996-97 (table 11.17).

11.17 HIGHER CRIMINAL COURTS FINALISATIONS

1996-97
1997-98
1998-99
1999-2000
2000-01
2001-02

SUPREME COURT

New South Wales
90
85
123
127
146
136
Victoria
72
75
100
115
92
91
Queensland
743
813
776
856
785
754
South Australia
121
114
69
74
70
51
Western Australia
298
263
238
213
226
192
Tasmania
322
337
611
749
441
486
Northern Territory
206
311
288
268
404
262
Australian Capital Territory
150
138
161
190
205
171
Australia
2,002
2,136
2,366
2,592
2,369
2,143

INTERMEDIATE COURT(a)

New South Wales
3,494
3,876
4,063
4,173
3,771
3,518
Victoria
1,559
1,662
1,877
2,162
2,055
1,902
Queensland
5,521
5,664
6,819
6,523
6,147
6,476
South Australia
1,178
890
874
862
858
1,080
Western Australia
1,930
2,455
2,655
2,900
2,829
2,878
Australia
13,682
14,547
16,288
16,620
15,660
15,854

TOTAL HIGHER COURTS

New South Wales
3,584
3,961
4,186
4,300
3,917
3,654
Victoria
1,631
1,737
1,977
2,277
2,147
1,993
Queensland
6,264
6,477
7,595
7,379
6,932
7,230
South Australia
1,299
1,004
943
936
928
1,131
Western Australia
2,228
2,718
2,893
3,113
3,055
3,070
Tasmania
322
337
611
749
441
486
Northern Territory
206
311
288
268
404
262
Australian Capital Territory
150
138
161
190
205
171
Australia
15,684
16,683
18,654
19,212
18,029
17,997

(a) There is no Intermediate Court in Tas., NT or ACT.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia, 2001-02 (4513.0).

11.18 HIGHER CRIMINAL COURTS FINALISATIONS - 2001-02
Graphic - 11.18 Higher criminal courts finalisations - 2001-02


Of the 17,997 defendants finalised in the Higher Criminal Courts during 2001-02, 78% were proven guilty (i.e. pleaded guilty or were declared guilty at trial) and 6% were acquitted (diagram 11.18). Of the 14,073 defendants who were proven guilty, 91% pleaded guilty and the other 9% were declared guilty at trial. Combined, these two finalisation outcomes represent defendants who had their cases adjudicated by the courts (85% or 15,229). The remaining 15% (2,768) of defendants were finalised by a non-adjudicated method. This includes charges withdrawn by the prosecution, the defendant absconding or the defendant dying.

Adjudicated defendants

Of adjudicated defendants, guilty pleas accounted for 84%. The remaining 16% were subject to a trial outcome, of which over half were found guilty.

Age and sex

Approximately one-third of both male and female adjudicated defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts were aged 25-34 years (graph 11.19). The median age of defendants finalised by adjudication was 29 years (table 11.20). The majority (55%) of adjudicated defendants were aged between 20 and 34 years.

Graph - 11.19 Proportion of adjudicated defendants, By age group - 2001-02


11.20 TOTAL HIGHER COURTS ADJUDICATED DEFENDANTS, Principal offence by age group - 2001-02

Age group (years)

ASOC Division(a)
Under 20
20-24
25-34
35-44
45 and over
Unknown
Total
Median age (years)

NUMBER (no.)

Persons
Homicide and related offences
27
111
135
103
73
14
463
31.4
Acts intended to cause injury
314
677
1,133
548
273
158
3,103
28.9
Sexual assault and related offences
68
146
356
388
563
64
1,585
39.7
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
39
128
138
49
31
18
403
26.7
Abduction and related offences
11
28
39
21
9
2
110
28.7
Robbery, extortion and related offences
414
697
626
181
46
58
2,022
23.6
Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter
427
738
714
199
42
86
2,206
24.1
Theft and related offences
134
224
251
114
58
36
817
26.1
Deception and related offences
44
153
336
253
230
90
1,106
34.2
Illicit drug offences
54
314
684
545
383
35
2,015
33.9
Weapons and explosives offences
4
10
17
12
10
7
60
31.5
Property damage and environmental pollution
73
102
100
49
19
24
367
24.8
Public order offences
32
41
41
35
39
7
195
30.4
Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences
1
-
-
-
-
-
1
n.p.
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
24
64
93
54
32
13
280
29.4
Miscellaneous offences
35
58
104
62
53
34
346
30.7
Not able to be determined(b)
22
24
42
23
19
11
141
28.3
Total
1,723
3,515
4,809
2,636
1,880
657
15,220
28.7
Organisations/unknown
-
1
-
1
4
3
9
-
Total defendants
1,723
3,516
4,809
2,637
1,884
660
15,229
28.7

PROPORTION (%)

Persons
Homicide and related offences
1.6
3.2
2.8
3.9
3.9
2.1
3.0
. .
Acts intended to cause injury
18.2
19.3
23.6
20.8
14.5
24.0
20.4
. .
Sexual assault and related offences
3.9
4.2
7.4
14.7
29.9
9.7
10.4
. .
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
2.3
3.6
2.9
1.9
1.6
2.7
2.6
. .
Abduction and related offences
0.6
0.8
0.8
0.8
0.5
0.3
0.7
. .
Robbery, extortion and related offences
24.0
19.8
13.0
6.9
2.4
8.8
13.3
. .
Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter
24.8
21.0
14.8
7.5
2.2
13.1
14.5
. .
Theft and related offences
7.8
6.4
5.2
4.3
3.1
5.5
5.4
. .
Deception and related offences
2.6
4.4
7.0
9.6
12.2
13.7
7.3
. .
Illicit drug offences
3.1
8.9
14.2
20.7
20.4
5.3
13.2
. .
Weapons and explosives offences
0.2
0.3
0.4
0.5
0.5
1.1
0.4
. .
Property damage and environmental pollution
4.2
2.9
2.1
1.9
1.0
3.7
2.4
. .
Public order offences
1.9
1.2
0.9
1.3
2.1
1.1
1.3
. .
Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences
0.1
-
-
-
-
-
-
. .
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
1.4
1.8
1.9
2.0
1.7
2.0
1.8
. .
Miscellaneous offences
2.0
1.7
2.2
2.4
2.8
5.2
2.3
. .
Not able to be determined
1.3
0.7
0.9
0.9
1.0
1.7
0.9
. .
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
. .

(a) Australian Standard Offence Classification.
(b) Defendants for whom offence data were missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia, 2001-02 (4513.0).

Principal offence

Five principal offence categories accounted for the majority of the adjudicated defendants in Australia's Higher Criminal Courts during 2001-02 (table 11.20). These were: acts intending to cause injury (including assault) (20%); UEWI (including burglary and break and enter) (15%); offences related to robbery and extortion (13%); illicit drug offences (13%); and offences related to sexual assault (10%). There were 10,934 defendants adjudicated by the Higher Criminal Courts with a principal offence in one of these five offence categories.

For both male and female defendants, the most prevalent principal offence category for which they were adjudicated was acts intending to cause injury (21% of males and 19% of females). Males were more likely than females to have been adjudicated for a principal offence of sexual assault or UEWI, while females were more likely than males to have been adjudicated for a principal offence of deception or illicit drug offences. Males and females were approximately equally likely to have been adjudicated for homicide and related offences (graph 11.21).

The median age of adjudicated defendants displayed considerable variation across the principal offence categories. Defendants with a principal offence related to sexual assault had a median age of 40 years, while defendants with a principal offence related to robbery and extortion or UEWI (including break and enter) had a median age of 24 years.

Graph - 11.21 Adjudicated defendants, By selected principal offence - 2001-02


Principal offence duration

Of all adjudicated defendants, those who received a guilty verdict had a median duration (from initiation to finalisation in the Higher Criminal Courts) of 47 weeks, and those who were acquitted at trial had a median duration of 37 weeks (table 11.22). For those who pleaded guilty the median duration was 17 weeks.

11.22 HIGHER COURTS ADJUDICATED DEFENDANTS, Median duration to finalisation(a) - 2001-02

Adjudication type

Principal offence
Acquitted
Guilty verdict
Guilty plea
Total

Homicide and related offences
37.9
47.1
28.9
37.9
Acts intended to cause injury
32.9
47.0
19.4
21.9
Sexual assault and related offences
38.1
45.1
20.8
27.1
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
25.3
44.9
16.1
17.4
Abduction and related offences
52.1
44.7
23.0
27.4
Robbery, extortion and related offences
25.4
42.6
15.1
16.4
Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter
52.0
50.1
11.3
12.0
Theft and related offences
31.5
48.3
17.0
18.2
Deception and related offences
55.0
59.6
18.1
20.1
Illicit drug offences
32.9
51.6
20.1
23.3
Weapons and explosives offences
n.p.
n.p.
21.3
22.9
Property damage and environmental pollution
37.4
56.9
13.8
14.9
Public order offences
n.p.
n.p.
16.9
21.0
Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences
-
-
n.p.
n.p.
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
55.7
45.7
10.7
13.2
Miscellaneous offences
38.9
44.9
14.5
16.4
Not able to be determined(b)
43.9
43.5
14.8
21.6
Total
37.1
47.1
16.6
19.6

(a) Number of weeks from date of initiation to finalisation.
(b) Defendants for whom offence data were missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia, 2001-02 (4513.0).

Change in plea

The initial plea entered by the defendant has implications for the workload of the Higher Criminal Courts and the length of time a defendant remains active within the court system. An initial plea of 'not guilty' may lead to a trial while an initial plea of 'guilty' will negate the need for a trial and result in a sentencing hearing.

Of the defendants finalised by adjudication (excluding Queensland), 55% (5,038) entered the Higher Criminal Courts with a not guilty plea and were therefore expected to be tried (table 11.23). Of the defendants who initially pleaded not guilty, 59% (2,994) changed their plea to guilty during proceedings in the Higher Criminal Courts.

In general, defendants with an initial plea of guilty had a shorter duration than defendants with an initial plea of not guilty and final plea of guilty. Defendants entering an initial plea of not guilty and final plea of guilty in turn had a shorter duration than defendants with an initial and final plea of not guilty.

11.23 HIGHER COURTS ADJUDICATED DEFENDANTS, Initial and final plea status - 2001-02

NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
ACT
Aust.

NUMBER (no.)

No change in plea
Not guilty
770
348
n.a.
179
594
104
22
27
n.a.
Guilty
1,292
934
n.a.
196
1,513
81
21
57
n.a.
Total
2,062
1,282
n.a.
375
2,107
185
43
84
n.a.
Change in plea
Not guilty to guilty
1,090
613
n.a.
426
462
168
198
37
n.a.
Guilty to not guilty
15
-
n.a.
1
16
-
-
-
n.a.
Total
1,105
613
n.a.
427
478
168
198
37
n.a.
Total
3,167
1,895
6,065
802
2,585
353
241
121
15,229

PROPORTION (%)

No change in plea
Not guilty
24.3
18.4
n.a.
22.3
23.0
29.5
9.1
22.3
n.a.
Guilty
40.8
49.3
n.a.
24.4
58.5
22.9
8.7
47.1
n.a.
Total
65.1
67.7
n.a.
46.8
81.5
52.4
17.8
69.4
n.a.
Change in plea
Not guilty to guilty
34.4
32.3
n.a.
53.1
17.9
47.6
82.2
30.6
n.a.
Guilty to not guilty
0.5
-
n.a.
0.1
0.6
-
-
-
n.a.
Total
34.9
32.3
n.a.
53.2
18.5
47.6
82.2
30.6
n.a.
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

MEDIAN DURATION (weeks)(a)

No change in plea
Not guilty
35.4
43.9
n.a.
42.0
60.0
36.6
37.6
40.1
n.a.
Guilty
14.0
13.9
n.a.
12.4
8.9
6.6
6.6
14.9
n.a.
Total
18.6
17.7
n.a.
23.7
11.1
14.9
22.3
18.5
n.a.
Change in plea
Not guilty to guilty
26.4
34.0
n.a.
24.1
23.5
19.1
16.9
70.0
n.a.
Guilty to not guilty
26.0
-
n.a.
n.p.
61.4
-
-
-
n.a.
Total
26.4
34.0
n.a.
24.0
24.9
19.1
16.9
70.0
n.a.
Total
21.4
23.3
19.3
23.8
12.3
17.6
17.0
34.9
19.6

(a) From date of initiation to finalisation.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia, 2001-02 (4513.0).

Custodial orders

Just over half (54%) of defendants proven guilty received custodial orders to be served in a correctional facility (i.e. custodial orders excluding fully suspended sentences) (table 11.24).

Non-custodial orders

Nationally, 28% of defendants proven guilty received a principal sentence type of a non-custodial order (includes community supervision/work orders, monetary orders and other non-custodial orders) (table 11.24). The most common non-custodial sentence type was a community supervision/work order (71% of non-custodial sentences).

11.24 HIGHER COURTS DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY, Principal sentence type - 2001-02

Age group (years)

Under 20
20-24
25-34
35-44
45 and over
Unknown(a)
Total(a)
Median age(years)

NUMBER (no.)

Custodial orders
Custody in corrections
689
1,771
2,576
1,343
922
275
7,576
29.0
Custody in the community
7
19
20
11
6
-
63
27.0
Fully suspended sentences
200
498
800
477
347
126
2,448
30.5
Total(b)
897
2,297
3,408
1,845
1,295
401
10,143
29.4
Non-custodial orders
Community supervision work/orders
685
799
667
258
156
167
2,732
23.1
Monetary orders
34
114
194
129
96
28
595
31.5
Other non-custodial orders
73
112
157
109
68
28
547
29.4
Total
792
1,025
1,018
496
320
223
3,874
25.0
Unknown sentence type
4
4
19
17
11
1
56
35.6
Total
1,693
3,326
4,445
2,358
1,626
625
14,073
28.3

PROPORTION (%)

Custodial orders
Custody in corrections
40.7
53.2
58.0
57.0
56.7
44.0
53.8
. .
Custody in the community
0.4
0.6
0.4
0.5
0.4
-
0.4
. .
Fully suspended sentences
11.8
15.0
18.0
20.2
21.3
20.2
17.4
. .
Total(b)
53.0
69.1
76.7
78.2
79.6
64.2
72.1
. .
Non-custodial orders
Community supervision work/orders
40.5
24.0
15.0
10.9
9.6
26.7
19.4
. .
Monetary orders
2.0
3.4
4.4
5.5
5.9
4.5
4.2
. .
Other non-custodial orders
4.3
3.4
3.5
4.6
4.2
4.5
3.9
. .
Total
46.8
30.8
22.9
21.0
19.7
35.7
27.5
. .
Unknown sentence type
0.2
0.1
0.4
0.7
0.7
0.2
0.4
. .
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
. .

(a) Includes organisations and persons with unknown sex.
(b) Includes defendants with custodial orders not further defined.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia, 2001-02 (4513.0).

For both males and females, the number of defendants who received custodial orders to be served in a correctional facility (i.e. custodial orders excluding fully suspended sentences) was greatest for defendants aged 25-34 years (graph 11.25).

Graph - 11.25 Proportion of defendants receiving custodial orders, By age group - 2001-02


Total criminal cases

Table 11.26 shows the total number of criminal cases handled in the courts of Australia, including appeal and non-appeal cases. Of all the criminal cases filed in Australia during 2001-02, 95% were filed in the Magistrates' Courts, with New South Wales and Queensland being the largest contributors to the national total. A large proportion of cases in the Magistrates' Court in most states and territories are minor traffic matters.

11.26 CRIMINAL COURT FINALISATIONS - 2001-02(a)

NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
ACT
Aust.(b)
Court level
’000
’000
’000
’000
’000
’000
’000
’000
’000

Supreme Court
1.1
0.6
1.0
0.4
0.4
0.5
0.3
0.2
4.5
District/County Court
9.0
3.0
8.0
1.0
3.0
. .
. .
. .
25.0
Magistrates' Court(c)
133.0
110.0
144.0
55.0
60.0
39.0
12.0
5.0
557.0
Total
143.1
113.6
153.0
56.4
63.4
39.5
12.3
5.2
586.5

(a) Lodgments do not equal finalisations in any given year because matters lodged in one year may be finalised in the next.
(b) Australian totals may not add as a result of rounding.
(c) In Tas., the number of lodgements declined by between 8,000 and 10,000 matters due to information technology difficulties experienced by a major court user. This has had a considerable flow on effect on finalisations. The matters lodged by this user are usually resolved within the year of lodgement. It is estimated, therefore, that finalisations are affected by between 8,000 and 10,000 matters.
Source: Steering Committee for the Review of Commonwealth/State Service Provision, 'Report on Government Services 2003'.


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Commonwealth of Australia 2014

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