Criminal Courts

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    Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)


The Criminal Courts collection includes statistics on defendants finalised in the criminal jurisdiction of the Higher (Supreme and Intermediate), Magistrates' and Children's Courts of Australia. The Higher Criminal Courts deal with criminal cases involving serious matters; that is, those relating to indictable offences. The Magistrates' Criminal Courts generally hear summary matters. The Children's Criminal Courts hear criminal charges against persons generally aged less than 18 years. Appeals, breaches of bond and civil cases are not within the scope of this collection.


    To collect Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Criminal Courts data for all states and territories in Australia according to ABS standard counting rules and definitions. Statistics are published on a national and state/territory basis that allows for comparison of defendant characteristics across jurisdictions, and within jurisdictions over time.


    All defendants finalised in the Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Criminal Courts (excluding appeals) in all states/territories within a given reference period.


    Conceptual framework

    The Criminal Courts collection contains information on the number of defendants finalised within the Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Criminal Courts during the reference period. A defendant is a person or organisation 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 courts. The Children's Courts do not hear cases pertaining to organisations.

    The collection excludes cases heard in the criminal jurisdiction of the courts which do not require the adjudication of charges (e.g. bail reviews and applications to amend sentence or penalties). Also excluded are breach of bail or parole cases, appeal cases, tribunal matters and defendants for whom a bench warrant is issued but not executed.

    Main outputs

The publication Criminal Courts, Australia (cat. no. 4513.0) presents statistics on Australia's criminal courts, comprised of the three court levels of Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Criminal Courts. The statistics include counts of defendants finalised during the reference period (i.e. all charges against the defendant have been formally completed and the defendant ceases to be an item of work for the court). Statistics are available on:
  • Age and sex
  • Method of finalisation
  • Principal offence (i.e. the Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification offence category associated with the most serious charge)
  • Principal sentence (i.e. the main sentence type received by the defendant)
  • Duration (i.e. the time elapsed between the date of initiation and the date of finalisation)
  • Sentence length and fine amount output by principal sentence and principal proven offence

Experimental data on defendants finalised for at least one family and domestic violence related offence were included in the Criminal Courts publication for the first time in the 2015-16. The principal counting unit is the finalised defendant. For the purposes of the FDV data, a finalised defendant is defined as having one or more FDV related offences in the ABS criminal courts extract.

For more information about the scope and methodology used to derive the experimental FDV data, refer to the Explanatory Notes of the Criminal Courts, Australia (cat. no. 4513.0) publication.


    The Criminal Courts collection adopts a number of national classifications.

    • Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC)
    • National Offence Index (NOI)
    • Age
    • Sex
    • State/territory
    • Court level
    • Method of finalisation
    • Sentence type
    • Indigenous status

    From 2010-11 the Criminal Courts publication uses the Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification and the National Offence Index 2009 to classify principal offence data. Past publications have used the Australian Standard Offence Classification (2008 and 1997 editions), and the National Offence Index 2002.

    These classifications provide a framework for classifying criminal court information for statistical purposes and ensuring that the data are compiled on a consistent basis across the states and territories. The classifications are hierarchical and so allow for different levels of detail to be recorded depending on the level of detail in the source information. Associated with each classification are coding rules which ensure that the counting of information is consistent across states and territories.

    Other concepts (summary)

Defendants who transfer between the Children's Courts and the Magistrates' or Higher Courts, or from a Magistrates' Court to a Higher Court, are considered to be initiated and finalised in each court level where they appear.

Defendants who transfer from one Higher Court level to another (e.g. Intermediate to Supreme Court) are considered as initiated only once (in the level they first entered) and finalised only once (from the level they finally left).

Data for the Criminal Courts publication are presented as counts of defendants. These counts of defendants are obtained by aggregating the information for individual offences whenever a defendant has more than one offence presented before the courts, or receives more than one sentence. The rules for the aggregation process are set out in the Explanatory Notes for each release.

    New South Wales
    South Australia
    Western Australia
    Northern Territory

    Comments and/or Other Regions

    The geographic definition of Australia, as used by the ABS, includes Other Territories (OT). However, these territories are generally regarded as out of scope for ABS collections. For the Criminal Courts collection, defendants in Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Criminal Courts cases heard in the criminal courts on Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island are included in the counts for Western Australia, where applicable. Defendants in Jervis Bay Territory are not included in any counts in this publication.


    Frequency comments


    The Criminal Courts collection was first published for the period 1 January to 31 December 1995 (titled 'Higher Criminal Courts Australia'). In 1996 the reference period moved from calendar year to financial year. That meant the collection was published for the calendar year 1996 and then for the financial year 1996-97. The reference period now remains as a financial year period.

    The collection initially included only Higher Criminal Courts statistics (i.e. Intermediate and Supreme Courts). However, in 2001-02, Magistrates' Criminal Courts were also included as 'experimental' statistics in the appendices of the publication and the title of the publication changed to 'Criminal Courts, Australia'. From 2003-04, the Magistrates' Criminal Courts statistics appeared in the main suite of the publication without the 'experimental' status. In 2004-05, 'experimental' data on defendants in the Children's Courts were included in the publication, for most states and territories. From 2006-07, Children's Courts data have been included in the main suite of the publication without the 'experimental' status, for all states and territories and Australia. In 2008-09 and 2009-10 defendants charged with Commonwealth offences were separately identified in the Criminal Courts publication. Further data on these defendants were released separately in 'Federal Defendants, Selected States and Territories'. From 2010-11, data on federal defendants were removed from the Criminal Courts publication and published in the Federal Defendants publication (cat. no. 4515.0) only.

    From 2009-10 to 2011-12, data on length of sentences were published as a supplementary chapter to the collection. From 2012-13, these data were incorporated into the main Criminal Courts release.

    • Data for 2009-10 related to custodial sentences handed down in the criminal jurisdiction of the Higher (Supreme and Intermediate) Courts of Australia, for all states and territories except Tasmania.
    • Data for 2010-11 related to custodial sentences for all states and territories and court levels, except the Higher Courts of Tasmania and the Magistrates' and Children's Courts of the Australian Capital Territory.
    • From 2011-12, data relate to both custodial and non-custodial sentences for all states and territories and court levels, with the exception of the Tasmanian Higher Courts.


    Data availability comments

    The Criminal Courts collection is a financial year collection and statistics are released annually. The publication 'Criminal Courts, Australia' is comprised of summary commentary and data cubes; both are available from the ABS website.

    Previous publications (and associated supplementary Data Cubes where applicable) are available from the ABS website (earliest publication release is 1996).

    Special data requests are available on a fee-for-service basis through the ABS National Information and Referral Service (Ph: 1300 135 070).

    28/02/2018 02:26 PM