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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2012  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/05/2012   
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Crime and justice

COURTS

A hierarchy of courts and tribunals operate within each state and territory, with the High Court being the highest court in the Australian judicial system (diagram 13.10).

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, which is alleged to be liable.

The majority of less serious matters are heard before magistrates and more serious matters are 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 compensation being sought. A court 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.


IMAGE 13.10 HIERARCHY OF COURTS DIAGRAM



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 from 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.

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, which 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.

The lowest level of criminal court is the Magistrates' Court, also known as the Court of Summary Jurisdiction, Local Court or Court of Petty Sessions. 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.

Each state and territory also has a Children's Court to deal with offences alleged to have been committed by children or juveniles. In all states and territories, children under 10 years of age cannot be charged with a criminal offence. The maximum age that defendants are considered to be a child or juvenile is under the age of 18 years at the time an offence was committed in all states and territories, except in Queensland. Defendants in Queensland are deemed an adult at 17 years of age or over at the time an offence was committed. In the main, these courts deal with summary proceedings. However, in some jurisdictions they have the power to also hear indictable matters.

A defendant proven guilty in a criminal matter is entitled to appeal against the conviction or against the severity of the 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 way in which they manage 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 ABS Criminal Courts Collection produces national statistics about defendants dealt with by the criminal jurisdictions of the Higher (Supreme and Intermediate), Magistrates' and Children's Courts of Australia for a financial year. The statistics provide a profile of the characteristics of finalised defendants, as well as data about the offences for which they have been charged, their guilt or innocence, and sentence outcomes for those proven guilty.


CRIMINAL COURTS DEFENDANT SUMMARY CHARACTERISTICS

Diagram 13.11 presents summary characteristics of defendants dealt with by the Higher, Magistrates' and Children's 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.

In 2009–10, there were 661,713 defendants finalised in the Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Courts. The total comprised: 91% or 603,604 finalised defendants in the Magistrates' Courts; 6% or 41,275 defendants in the Children's Courts; and 3% or 16,834 defendants in the Higher Courts.

Of those defendants finalised in the Higher Courts, 86% (14,409 defendants) 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 14% (2,425 defendants) 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.

In the Magistrates' Courts, 90% (545,658 finalised defendants) were adjudicated, while 7% (44,798 defendants) were finalised by non-adjudicated methods.

In the Children's Courts, 81% (33,469 finalised defendants) were adjudicated and 15% (6,254 defendants) were finalised by non-adjudicated methods.

13.11 CRIMINAL COURT FINALISATIONS—2009–10



HIGHER COURTS

Adjudicated defendants – principal offence

An adjudicated defendant is either a person or an organisation finalised via a guilty plea or a decision by the court as to their guilt or innocence of the final charges laid. Defendants can also be finalised by non-adjudicated methods such as transfer to other court levels or withdrawal by the prosecution.

In 2009–10, defendants were adjudicated in the Higher Courts for principal offences that fall within the following divisions of the Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC 2008): Acts intended to cause injury (22%); Illicit drug offences (20%); Sexual assault (16%); Robbery and extortion (11%); and Unlawful entry with intent (8%). Over three-quarters of defendants adjudicated (77% or 11,145 defendants) by the Higher Courts had a principal offence in one of these five categories (table 13.12).

Nationally, 92% (13,193) of adjudicated defendants were found guilty or pleaded guilty in the Higher Courts, while 8% (1,216) were acquitted.

Defendants were most likely to be acquitted for the principal offences of Sexual assault (24%) and Homicide (19%).

All defendants charged with Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences (100%) and almost all defendants charged with Illicit drug offences (99%), Unlawful entry with intent and Prohibited and regulated weapons and explosives offences (both 96%) were proven guilty in the Higher Courts during 2009–10 (table 13.12).


13.12 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN HIGHER COURTS, Principal offence—2009–10
ASOC Division(a)
Acquitted
Guilty finding
by court
Guilty plea
by defendant
Total(b)
Total adjudicated

Homicide and related offences
85
121
231
367
452
Acts intended to cause injury
291
298
2 556
2 879
3 170
Sexual assault and related offences
557
349
1 390
1 746
2 303
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
18
44
403
454
472
Abduction, harassment and other offences against the person
20
23
212
237
257
Robbery, extortion and related offences
57
123
1 448
1 584
1 641
Unlawful entry with intent
45
53
1 092
1 159
1 204
Theft and related offences
10
20
342
364
374
Fraud, deception and related offences
25
41
584
631
656
Illicit drug offences
42
224
2 540
2 785
2 827
Prohibited and regulated weapons and explosives offences
7
13
162
177
184
Property damage and environmental pollution
26
23
249
276
302
Public order offences
8
3
93
96
104
Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences
18
18
18
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
19
40
303
346
365
Miscellaneous offences
6
9
64
74
80
Total(c)
1 216
1 384
11 697
13 193
14 409

— nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
(a) Classified according to Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) 2008 (1234.0).
(b) Total proven guilty, includes defendants with charges proven, not further defined.
(c) Includes defendants for which offence data are missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia (4513.0).


In the Higher Courts, the most prevalent principal offences for both male and female adjudicated defendants were Acts intended to cause injury (22% of males and females) and Illicit drugs (19% of males and 25% of females). Proportionally more females were adjudicated for the principal offence of Fraud and deception (15%) than were males (3%). In contrast, there were proportionally more males than females with a principal offence of Sexual assault (18% and 2% respectively) (graph 13.13).

Graph 13.13 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN HIGHER COURTS, Selected principal offences(a)(b) by sex - 2009–10



Defendants proven guilty – principal sentence

Of the defendants proven guilty in the Higher Courts, 85% received custodial orders (i.e. custody in a correctional institution or the community or fully suspended sentences) (table 13.14).

Defendants proven guilty in the Higher Courts for Homicide, Robbery and extortion, and Sexual assault incurred the highest proportion of custodial orders (98%, 92% and 90% respectively). Defendants proven guilty for Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences and Public order offences incurred the highest proportion of non-custodial sentences (63% and 59% respectively).


13.14 DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY IN HIGHER COURTS(a), Principal offence and sentence—2009–10
ASOC Division(b)
Custodial orders
Non-custodial orders
Total(c)

Homicide and related offences
361
6
367
Acts intended to cause injury
2 451
426
2 877
Sexual assault and related offences
1 571
174
1 745
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
347
107
454
Abduction, harassment and other offences against the person
179
58
237
Robbery, extortion and related offences
1 466
119
1 585
Unlawful entry with intent
933
226
1 159
Theft and related offences
253
111
364
Fraud, deception and related offences
555
76
631
Illicit drug offences
2 379
406
2 785
Prohibited and regulated weapons and explosives offences
142
35
177
Property damage and environmental pollution
190
87
277
Public order offences
40
57
97
Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences
7
12
19
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
272
74
346
Miscellaneous offences
36
37
73
All offence categories(d)
11 182
2 011
13 193

(a) Includes organisations; includes defendants with unknown age and/or sex.
(b) Classified according to Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) 2008 (1234.0).
(c) Includes defendants for which a principal sentence is unknown.
(d) Includes defendants for which offence data are missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia (4513.0).


MAGISTRATES' COURTS

Adjudicated defendants – principal offence

Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences accounted for the greatest proportion (44% or 240,891) of defendants adjudicated in the Magistrates' Courts in 2009–10. After Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences, the largest proportion of defendants were charged with Public order offences (11%), Acts intended to cause injury (9%), Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons (7%), Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations, and Theft (both 6%).

Nationally, 96% (525,274) of adjudicated defendants were proven guilty in the Magistrates' Courts, while 4% (20,383) were acquitted.

Defendants adjudicated in the Magistrates' Courts were most likely to be acquitted for Homicide (28%), Robbery and extortion (18%) and Sexual assault (16%).

The principal offences with the highest proportion of defendants proven guilty in the Magistrates' Courts were Illicit drug offences (99%), Prohibited and regulated weapons and explosives offences (99%) and Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons (98%) (table 13.15).


13.15 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN MAGISTRATES' COURTS, Principal offence—2009–10

ASOC Division(a)
Acquitted
Proven guilty
Total adjudicated

Homicide and related offences
24
62
86
Acts intended to cause injury
4 465
43 330
47 795
Sexual assault and related offences
202
1 096
1 298
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
562
36 335
36 897
Abduction, harassment and other offences against the person
109
2 125
2 234
Robbery, extortion and related offences
41
181
222
Unlawful entry with intent
234
6 584
6 818
Theft and related offences
1 061
33 681
34 742
Fraud, deception and related offences
319
12 838
13 157
Illicit drug offences
341
32 127
32 468
Prohibited and regulated weapons and explosives offences
94
7 220
7 314
Property damage and environmental pollution
466
13 597
14 063
Public order offences
6 616
55 216
61 832
Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences
4 392
236 499
240 891
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
1 070
33 751
34 821
Miscellaneous offences
354
10 494
10 848
Total(b)
20 383
525 274
545 657

(a) Classified according to Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) 2008 (1234.0).
(b) Includes defendants for which offence data are missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia (4513.0).


In the Magistrates' Courts, Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences accounted for 43% of adjudicated male defendants and half (50%) of all female adjudicated defendants (graph 13.16). Public order offences accounted for 12% of male and 8% of female adjudicated defendants, while Acts intended to cause injury accounted for 9% of male and 7% of female adjudicated defendants. Theft and Fraud and deception offences both had higher proportions of female adjudicated defendants than male adjudicated defendants. Theft offences comprised 8% of female and 5% of male adjudicated defendants, while Fraud and deception offences comprised 5% of female and 2% of male adjudicated defendants.

Graph 13.16 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN MAGISTRATES' COURTS, Principal offences(a)(b) by sex - 2009–10


Defendants proven guilty – principal sentence

In 2009–10, defendants proven guilty in the Magistrates’ Courts predominantly received non-custodial orders (e.g. community supervision, monetary orders, good behaviour bonds) (91%). The exception was for Robbery and extortion, where 63% of defendants proven guilty received a custodial sentence (table 13.17).


13.17 DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY IN MAGISTRATES' COURTS(a), Principal offence and sentence—2009–10

ASOC Division(b)
Custodial orders
Non-custodial orders
Total(c)

Homicide and related offences
17
43
62
Acts intended to cause injury
11 967
31 296
43 330
Sexual assault and related offences
487
589
1 096
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
3 777
32 537
36 335
Abduction, harassment and other offences against the person
426
1 697
2 125
Robbery, extortion and related offences
116
56
184
Unlawful entry with intent
3 115
3 425
6 584
Theft and related offences
4 359
29 246
33,681
Fraud, deception and related offences
2 981
9 831
12 838
Illicit drug offences
2 499
29 588
32 127
Prohibited and regulated weapons and explosives offences
881
6 325
7 220
Property damage and environmental pollution
1 016
12 554
13 597
Public order offences
1 069
54 109
55 216
Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences
10 662
225 711
236 499
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
2 886
30 799
33 751
Miscellaneous offences
180
10 296
10 494
All offence categories(d)
46 445
478 210
525 275

(a) Includes organisations; includes defendants with unknown age and/or sex.
(b) Classified according to Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) 2008 (1234.0).
(c) Includes defendants for which a principal sentence is unknown.
(d) Includes defendants for which offence data are missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia (4513.0).


CHILDREN'S COURTS

Adjudicated defendants – principal offence

The main offences that defendants were adjudicated for in the Children's Courts during 2009–10 were Theft (20%); Acts intended to cause injury (19%); Unlawful entry with intent (13%); Traffic and vehicle regulatory (11%) and Public order offences (10%).

Nationally, 96% (31,991) of adjudicated defendants were proven guilty in the Children's Courts and 4% (1,479) were acquitted.

Higher proportions of acquittals occurred for defendants charged with Homicide (21%), Miscellaneous offences (13%) and Sexual assault (12%).

The principal offences with the highest proportion of defendants proven guilty were Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons and Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences (both 99%), Prohibited and regulated weapons and explosives offences (98%), Fraud and deception and Illicit drug offences (both 97%) (table 13.18).


13.18 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN CHILDREN'S COURTS, Principal offence—2009–10
ASOC Division(a)
Acquitted
Proven guilty
Total adjudicated

Homicide and related offences
3
11
14
Acts intended to cause injury
406
6 047
6 453
Sexual assault and related offences
44
310
354
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
21
1 698
1 719
Abduction, harassment and other offences against the person
19
219
238
Robbery, extortion and related offences
79
1 188
1 267
Unlawful entry with intent
136
4 141
4 277
Theft and related offences
266
6 320
6 586
Fraud, deception and related offences
10
323
333
Illicit drug offences
22
799
821
Prohibited and regulated weapons and explosives offences
13
522
535
Property damage and environmental pollution
124
2 460
2 584
Public order offences
209
3 219
3 428
Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences
39
3 488
3 527
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
47
923
970
Miscellaneous offences
41
279
320
Total(b)
1 479
31 991
33 470

(a) Classified according to Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) 2008 (1234.0).
(b) Includes defendants for whom offence data are missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: Criminal Courts, Australia (4513.0).


There was variation for some offence types in the proportion of male and female defendants adjudicated in the Children's Courts (graph 13.19). Adjudicated males had higher proportions than adjudicated females for the following offences: Unlawful entry with intent (15% of males, 6% of females), Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons (6% of males, 2% of females) and Traffic offences (11% of males, 10% of females).

Proportionally, there were more female defendants charged for the following offences than male defendants: Acts intended to cause injury (25% of adjudicated females, 18% of males) and Theft offences (29% of adjudicated females, 17% of males) (graph 13.19).

Graph 13.19 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN CHILDREN'S COURTS, Principal offences(a)(b) by sex - 2009–10



Defendants proven guilty – principal sentence

In 2009–10, defendants proven guilty in the Children’s Courts predominantly received non-custodial orders (e.g. community supervision, monetary orders, good behaviour bonds). The offences with the highest proportion of custodial orders were Robbery (34%) and Homicide (33%) (table 13.20).

13.20 DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY IN CHILDREN'S COURTS(a), Principal offence and sentence—2009–10
ASOC Division(b)
Custodial orders
Non-custodial orders
Total(c)

Homicide and related offences
3
6
9
Acts intended to cause injury
1 051
4 975
6 047
Sexual assault and related offences
68
222
310
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
186
1,510
1 696
Abduction, harassment and other offences against the person
42
177
219
Robbery, extortion and related offences
401
785
1 189
Unlawful entry with intent
699
3,434
4 141
Theft and related offences
267
6 022
6 320
Fraud, deception and related offences
15
308
323
Illicit drug offences
37
756
799
Prohibited and regulated weapons and explosives offences
45
474
522
Property damage and environmental pollution
117
2 332
2 460
Public order offences
44
3 154
3 219
Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences
22
3 453
3 488
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
27
889
923
Miscellaneous offences
275
278
All offence categories(d)
3 032
28 805
31 987

— nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
(a) Includes defendants with unknown age and/or sex.
(b) Classified according to Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) 2008 (1234.0).
(c) Includes defendants for whom a principal sentence is unknown.
(d) 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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Statistics contained in the Year Book are the most recent available at the time of preparation. In many cases, the ABS website and the websites of other organisations provide access to more recent data. Each Year Book table or graph and the bibliography at the end of each chapter provides hyperlinks to the most up to date data release where available.

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