4513.0 - Criminal Courts, Australia, 2017-18 Quality Declaration 
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 28/02/2019   
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EXPLANATORY NOTES

INTRODUCTION

1 This publication presents information about defendants who were finalised in the criminal jurisdictions of the Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Courts across Australia’s states and territories during the period 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018. Information is presented about the offences, case outcomes and sentences associated with these defendants.

2 Time series data are presented for 2010–11 onward. Additional data can be found in historical editions of this publication (via the ABS website): Higher Courts from 1995, Magistrates' Courts from 2003–04 (experimental data for 2001–02 and 2002–03 are also available), and the Children's Courts from 2006–07 (experimental data for 2005–06 are also available).

DATA SOURCE

3 Statistics presented in this publication are compiled based on administrative unit record data supplied to the ABS by the agencies responsible for courts administration in each state and territory, with the exception of Queensland (where data are supplied via the Office of the Government Statistician), and New South Wales (where data are supplied via the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research).

4 In order to ensure consistency between the states and territories, each one is required to provide data coded to national classifications and standards. For more information see paragraphs 14–21.

SCOPE AND COVERAGE

5 This publication presents statistics about persons and organisations whose case(s) have been finalised within the criminal jurisdictions of the Higher, Magistrates' or Children's Courts during the reference period, with the exception of:

  • Persons under 10 years of age
  • Civil court matters
  • Appeal cases
  • Tribunal matters
  • Cases which do not require the adjudication of charges (e.g. bail reviews and applications to amend sentences or penalties)
  • Defendants for whom a bench warrant is issued but not executed
  • Finalisations in specialist courts, such as drug courts, electronic courts, fine recovery units and Indigenous courts
  • Pre-court diversionary programs (warnings, cautions, drug diversions, conferencing)
  • Bench warrants in the Higher Courts
  • Referrals to mental health review tribunals (e.g. for determination of fitness for trial).

The following offences (based on the Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC) (cat. no. 1234.0)) are excluded:
  • Breach of home detention (1512);
  • Breach of suspended sentence (1513);
  • Breach of community service order (1521);
  • Breach of parole (1522);
  • Breach of bail (1523);
  • Breach of bond – probation (1524);
  • Breach of bond – other (1525); and
  • Breach of community-based order, n.e.c. (1529).

6 The geographic definition of Australia, as used by the ABS, includes 'Other Territories'. Defendants finalised on Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island are included in the counts for Western Australia, where applicable. Defendants finalised in Jervis Bay Territory are not included.

COURT LEVELS

7 The Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Courts deal with different types of matters. There are differences across states and territories in how the courts are structured and in the legislation that governs the types of offences that can be heard summarily or on indictment.

Higher Courts

8 All states and territories have a Supreme Court that deals with the most serious criminal matters, generally referred to as an indictable offence (e.g. murder, manslaughter, serious sexual offences, assault, drug trafficking, robbery). The larger states (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia) also have an intermediate level of court, known as the District Court or County Court, which deal with the majority of serious offences. In this publication, the Supreme and Intermediate courts are collectively referred to as the ‘Higher Courts’.

9 All defendants that are dealt with by the Higher Courts have an automatic entitlement to a trial before a judge and jury. In some states and territories, the defendant may elect to have their matter(s) heard before a judge alone. Children treated as adults by the court may be included in the Higher Courts defendant counts.

Magistrates' Courts

10 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) which hears the majority of all criminal cases. Cases heard in the Magistrates’ Courts do not involve a jury – rather, a magistrate determines whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. This is known as a summary proceeding. Children treated as adults by the courts may also be finalised in the Magistrates' Courts.

Children's Courts

11 Each state and territory has Children's Courts to deal with offences alleged to have been committed by a child or juvenile. These courts mainly hear summary proceedings, but do have the power to hear indictable matters in some states and territories.

12 In all states and territories, a person can only be charged with a criminal offence where they are aged 10 years or over. Defendants are considered to be a child/juvenile where they are under 18 years of age at the time they committed an offence. Prior to February 2018, defendants in Queensland were considered to be a child/juvenile by the courts where they were aged under 17 years. Users are advised to exercise caution when comparing data by age across states and territories, or by court level in Queensland across the time series (see paragraph 89).

REFERENCE PERIOD

13 The statistics in this collection relate to defendants finalised during the reference period: 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018.

CLASSIFICATIONS

14 Classifications provide a framework for organising and presenting data in a comparable and consistent manner. The classifications used for this collection are based upon the National Criminal Courts Data Dictionary, 2006 (cat. no. 4527.0). The Dictionary - which was developed by the National Criminal Courts Statistics Unit (NCCSU) of the ABS in collaboration with key stakeholders - defines national data items and concepts that underpin the ABS and Council of Australian Governments (CoAG) criminal courts collections.

15 The key classifications used for this collection are:
  • Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC) (Appendix 1);
  • Method of Finalisation Classification (Appendix 2); and
  • Sentence Type Classification (Appendix 3).

ANZSOC

16 Offence data are presented according to the Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC) (cat. no. 1234.0). Changes to this classification, since its first release as the Australian Standard Offence Classification 1997 (cat. no. 1234.0) (ASOC97), are described in a Technical Note in the 2008–09 issue of this publication.

17 For ease of reading, some ANZSOC offence names have been abbreviated throughout this publication as follows:
  • Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons appear as 'Dangerous/negligent acts'
  • Abduction, harassment and other offences against the person appear as 'Abduction/harassment'
  • Robbery, extortion and related offences appear as ‘Robbery/extortion’
  • Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter appear as 'Unlawful entry with intent'
  • Theft and related offences appear as ‘Theft’
  • Fraud, deception and related offences appear as ‘Fraud/deception’
  • Prohibited and regulated weapons and explosives offences appear as 'Weapons/explosives'
  • Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations appear as 'Offences against justice'.

Method of Finalisation

18 Method of finalisation refers to how a criminal charge is concluded by a criminal court. The Method of Finalisation Classification (Appendix 2) contains the main categories of:
  • Adjudicated finalisation – a judgement or decision by the court as to whether or not the defendant is guilty of the charge(s) against them.
  • Non-adjudicated finalisation – a charge(s) considered to have been completed even though a judgement has not been handed down by the court (e.g. withdrawn by the prosecution, defendant deceased, unfit to plead, or transfers to non-court agencies).
  • Transfers to other court levels – a court order for the criminal charge(s) to be transferred to another court level for adjudication or sentencing.

Sentence Type

19 The Sentence Type Classification (Appendix 3) describes the types of sentences that are handed down by the court for offences proven guilty, including the main categories of:
  • Custodial orders – sentences that restrict the liberty of a defendant for a specified period of time (e.g. detainment in an institution or home, or regular supervision by corrections personnel while residing in the community); and
  • Non-custodial orders – sentences that do not involve being held in custody (e.g. fines, community service orders, good behaviour bonds).

20 Defendants can receive:
  • A single sentence for a single offence proven guilty;
  • A single sentence for multiple offences proven guilty;
  • Multiple sentences for a single offence proven guilty; or
  • Multiple sentences for multiple offences proven guilty.

21 In some cases, defendants with a method of finalisation of 'not guilty by reason of mental illness/condition' may have some kind of sentence/order imposed. However, these sentences are not included in this collection.

COUNTING METHODOLOGY

22 The principal counting unit for this collection is the finalised defendant.

23 A finalised defendant is defined as a person or organisation for whom all charges within a case have been formally completed so that they cease to be an active item of work for the court during the reference period.

24 The Criminal Courts collection does not enumerate unique persons, instead the following counting rules are applied:
  • Where a defendant is finalised for more than one case, on the same date and in the same court level, their records are merged and they are counted as one finalised defendant.
  • Where a defendant is finalised for more than one case, on separate dates within the reference period, they will be counted once for each date they were finalised.
  • Where a defendant is finalised in the Magistrates' Courts whilst other charges are committed to, and finalised in the Higher Courts, they will be counted once for each court level they were finalised in during the reference period.

Transfers

25 The following counting rules apply with regards to defendants transferred from, or between court levels:
  • Defendants transferred from one Higher Court level to another Higher Court level are considered as initiated only once (in the level they first entered) and finalised only once (from the level they finally left).
  • Defendants transferred from a Magistrates' Court to a Higher Court (or vice versa) are considered as initiated twice (once in each of the courts) and finalised twice (once in each of the courts).
  • Defendants transferred between the Children's Courts and the Magistrates' or Higher Courts (or vice versa) are considered to be initiated twice (once in each of the courts) and finalised twice (once in each of the courts).
  • Defendants transferred from the Magistrates' or Children's Courts to specialist courts for finalisation (e.g. Drug Courts, Indigenous Courts) are considered finalised (by transfer) in the criminal court that initiated the transfer. Defendants may then, upon completion of the program, return to the court that requested the transfer, for an additional finalisation.

26 Defendants with more serious offences (e.g. Homicide and related offences, Robbery/extortion or Sexual assault and related offences) are more likely than other defendants to be transferred from the Magistrates' to the Higher Courts for adjudication or sentencing. This should be taken into consideration when interpreting the relative proportions of transfers and defendants proven guilty for these offences.

DATA ITEMS

27 Defendants who were finalised for more than one offence during the reference period will have counting rules applied to determine their principal method of finalisation, offence, sentence type and other characteristics for inclusion in data tables.

Method of finalisation

28 For defendants who had multiple charges with varying outcomes, the method of finalisation is assigned based on the following order of precedence:

Higher Courts:
  • Defendant deceased
  • Unfit to plead
  • Not guilty by reason of mental illness/condition
  • Guilty finding by court
  • Charge proven n.f.d.
  • Guilty plea by defendant
  • Acquitted by court
  • Charge unproven n.f.d.
  • Charge unproven n.e.c.
  • Transfer from a Higher Court to a Magistrates' Court
  • Other transfer between court levels n.e.c.
  • Transfer to non-court agency
  • Withdrawn by the prosecution
  • Other non-adjudicated finalisation n.e.c.
  • Unknown/not stated.

Magistrates’ Courts:
  • Defendant deceased
  • Unfit to plead
  • Not guilty by reason of mental illness/condition
  • Guilty finding by court
  • Charge proven n.f.d.
  • Guilty plea by defendant
  • Guilty ex-parte
  • Acquitted by court
  • Charge unproven n.f.d.
  • No case to answer at committal
  • Charge unproven n.e.c.
  • Committed for trial
  • Transfer from a Magistrates' Court to a Higher Court n.f.d.
  • Committed for sentence
  • Transfer from a Magistrates' Court to a Higher Court n.e.c.
  • Other transfer between court levels n.e.c.
  • Transfer to non-court agency
  • Withdrawn by the prosecution
  • Other non-adjudicated finalisation n.e.c.
  • Unknown/not stated.

Children’s Courts:
  • Defendant deceased
  • Unfit to plead
  • Not guilty by reason of mental illness/condition
  • Guilty finding by court
  • Charge proven n.f.d.
  • Guilty plea by defendant
  • Guilty ex-parte
  • Acquitted by court
  • Charge unproven n.f.d.
  • No case to answer at committal
  • Charge unproven n.e.c.
  • Committed for trial
  • Transfer from a Children's Court to a Higher court n.f.d.
  • committed for sentence
  • Transfer from a Children's Court to a Higher Court n.e.c.
  • Transfer from a Children's Court to a Magistrates' Court
  • Other transfer between court levels n.e.c.
  • Transfer to non-court agency
  • Withdrawn by the prosecution
  • Other non-adjudicated finalisation n.e.c.
  • Unknown/not stated.

Principal offence

29 The principal offence presented in this collection refers to the most serious offence (based on ANZSOC) associated with a finalised defendant. Where a defendant has been finalised for more than one offence type, the method of finalisation and National Offence Index (NOI) (cat. no.1234.0.55.001) - a ranking of offences based on the concept of 'offence seriousness' – are used to determine the principal offence. The following rules apply:
  • For defendants finalised with a single offence, this is their principal offence.
  • For defendants with multiple charges with differing methods of finalisation, the principal offence is selected based on the following order of precedence:
    • Defendant deceased, unfit to plead, or not guilty by reason of mental illness
    • Charges proven
    • Charges not proven
    • Transfer of charges
    • Charges withdrawn
    • Other non-adjudicated finalisation
    • Unknown/not stated.

For example, for a defendant finalised as ‘charges proven’ for an assault offence, and ‘charges not proven’ for a robbery offence, their principal offence would be the assault.

30 Where a defendant has multiple charges, each with the same method of finalisation, the NOI is used to determine the principal offence (i.e. the charge with the highest ranked ANZSOC code on the NOI).

31 Where the defendant has an offence that is unable to be determined via the NOI (e.g. due to missing offence information) the principal offence is coded to 'not able to be determined'.

32 The rules underpinning the NOI, in particular defining 'offence seriousness' and the impact of this definition on the ranking of offences, need to be considered when using the principal offence data in this publication.

33 For data prior to 2007–08, a principal offence was only calculated for defendants whose charges were adjudicated.

SENTENCE INFORMATION

34 Sentence information is presented in this publication in the following two ways:
  • Principal sentence; and
  • Sentence length and Fine amount (i.e. ‘quantum’).

Principal Sentence

35 Defendants with more than one sentence type (for either a single offence or multiple offences) are assigned a principal sentence, which is intended to reflect the most serious sentence based on the hierarchy of the Sentence Type Classification (Appendix 3).

36 In most cases, the principal sentence will be associated with the principal offence (that is, the most serious sentence handed down for the most serious offence). However, because the principal sentence is assigned independently of offence information, it is possible for this not to be the case (i.e. where the most serious offence proven guilty has not incurred the most serious/largest sentence).

37 Analysis indicates that the overall number of instances where the principal offence and principal sentence do not align is small and mostly occurs within ANZSOC Divisions 04 Dangerous/negligent acts and 11 Weapons/explosives. Users should note this in regards to data tables presenting principal offence and principal sentence. Tables containing sentence quantum (Tables 57–61) present the offence directly associated with the principal sentence.

38 It should also be noted that there are some differences in the availability and application of sentence types across states and territories, and over time (see paragraphs 75–117), which should be taken into consideration when interpreting sentence data.

Sentence length and Fine amount (i.e. Quantum)

39 The sentence length and fine amount (i.e. quantum) data presented in this publication represents the most severe penalty dealt to a defendant who was proven guilty (with the exception of life and indeterminate imprisonment, refer to paragraph 48). This is determined using the Sentence Type Classification (Appendix 3) and the largest sentence length, or fine amount (quantum) dealt for that sentence.

Figure 1: Data items derived from a finalised defendant
Figure 1: Data items derived from a finalised defendant

40 Where a defendant has been dealt the same principal sentence and quantum value for more than one offence, the most serious offence (based on ANZSOC) - referred to as the ‘principal proven offence’ in the relevant tables - is assigned to the defendant based on the NOI (see paragraphs 29–33).

Further information on principal sentence and quantum

41 This section contains additional information in regards to sentencing practices that should be taken into consideration when interpreting data about principal sentence and sentence length/ fine amount presented within this publication.

42 There are some differences across states and territories in the sentence length data for ‘custody in a correctional institution’, due to whether the time a defendant spends in custody prior to sentencing (i.e. ‘time already served’) is included or not.

43 These differences likely impact the comparability of data across the states/territories (i.e. where inclusion of ‘time already served’ in quantum may result in longer sentence length data), and should be taken into consideration when comparing quantum information for custodial sentences.

44 ‘Global’ or multi-offence sentences refer to instances where a single sentence type (including associated quantum) applies to more than one offence. This sentencing practice is used in some states and territories and may result in overstated quantum information (i.e. sentence length or fine amount) for the associated offence (i.e. the quantum is actually associated with more than the one offence).

45 Concurrent sentences refer to sentences that commence at the same time, whereas cumulative sentences are served one after the other.
  • Where a defendant is found guilty for more than one offence, either a concurrent or cumulative sentence may be imposed.
  • For either sentence type, the published quantum value (i.e. the sentence length or fine amount) is the largest value associated with the principal sentence.

46 A non-parole period is the minimum amount of time that a prisoner will be detained before being eligible to be released on parole. Specific offences may have a legislated non-parole period, referred to as a 'minimum sentence'. For these sentences, the sentence length presented is the total period of the sentence imposed, not the 'minimum sentence'.

47 A defendant sentenced to imprisonment with a partially suspended term must be detained in prison for part of the specified term of the sentence, with the remainder of the term suspended on the condition that the defendant will be of good behaviour (and can also include other conditions such as attendance at rehabilitation or education programs). Sentence length data for partially suspended sentences reflects the full period of imprisonment (i.e. the period suspended and the period in custody).

48 Life and indeterminate sentences are the most serious forms of imprisonment. Life imprisonment can result in the defendant being imprisoned for the term of their natural life, or they may have a minimum time to serve specified by the court or administrative body (e.g. a Parole Board). Indeterminate sentences do not have a prescribed minimum term to serve and the actual term may be subject to a ministerial or other administrative decision. Given these sentence types do not necessarily have an associated sentence length, they have been excluded from sentence quantum data in this collection. However, the impact of this is very small (usually less than 1% of all defendants sentenced to custody have one of these sentence types).

49 Compound (or ‘complex’) sentences can be broadly defined as sentences, served in the community, that include various components, elements, or conditions, such as program attendance, community work, drug or alcohol treatment, counselling and education. These sentences are becoming increasingly common across states and territories due to their flexibility, with judges/magistrates being able to tailor a sentence to suit the particular circumstances of an offender and the severity of their offences, whilst providing for both restitution and rehabilitative sentencing principles.

50 Western Australia was the first of all states and territories to introduce ‘compound sentencing’ (in 1995) and since then, various other types have been implemented across Australia, including Community Corrections Orders (CCOs) Intensive Corrections Orders (ICOs) and Intensive Supervision Orders (ISOs).

51 Given the flexibility of the conditions imposed as part of a compound sentence, there is currently no single sentence in the Sentence Type Classification (Appendix 3) that accurately and comparably reflects these sentences. As such, sentence data presented in this publication should be interpreted with caution.

DURATION

52 This ‘duration’ information presented is a measure of court timeliness representing the time taken (in days) between the date a defendant’s case(s) was initiated in court and the date they ceased to be an item of work for the court as follows:

Duration = Date of finalisation – Date of initiation + 1

53 Note that duration data for New South Wales, the Northern Territory and Western Australia (prior to 2013–14) are derived on a different basis (see paragraphs 77, 100 and 109).

INDIGENOUS STATUS

54 This publication presents data on the Indigenous status of defendants finalised in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory. Based on ABS assessment, Indigenous status data for other states and territories are not of sufficient quality and/or did not meet ABS standards for national reporting in 2017–18. The ABS continues to work towards improving the quality and coverage of Indigenous status data for this collection.

55 Indigenous status data are based on information collected and recorded by police and transferred from the police to courts systems (upon defendant initiation in the courts). The police information is based upon self-identification by the individual (or via a response from next of kin/guardian). As such, the quality of the Indigenous status data presented in this publication is dependent on police seeking and recording this information, and whether it can be transferred to the courts administrative systems.

56 Defendants proceeded against for traffic offences often do not have Indigenous status information recorded (due to these offences usually being dealt with via fines issued by road traffic authorities). As such, Dangerous or negligent operation of a vehicle (ANZSOC Subdivision 041) and Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences (ANZSOC Division 14) and are excluded from Indigenous status tables and associated commentary presented in this publication.

57 Other offences that may be actioned by prosecuting agencies other than police (and therefore likely have low quality Indigenous status information), include: public order offences, offences against justice, and miscellaneous offences. This should be taken into account when comparing the Indigenous status of defendants for these offence categories.

RATE OF DEFENDANTS FINALISED

58 The rate of defendants finalised is expressed as the number of defendants (excluding organisations) per 100,000 of the ABS Estimated Resident Population (ERP), for persons aged 10 years and over. The ERP used in these calculations are taken at the mid-point of the relevant reference period (e.g. 31 December 2017 for the 2017–18 reference period). Rates presented by sex and age are based on ERP for the relevant sex or age group. For more information on ERP, see Australian Demographic Statistics, December Quarter, 2017 (cat. no. 3101.0).

59 In this release, rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous defendants have been presented for the first time (in Table 15), including both crude and age standardised rates.

60 Crude rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander defendants are expressed per 100,000 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population (aged 10 years and over) as at 31 December, 2017 and are based on Series B Estimates and Projections, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2001 to 2026 (cat. no. 3238.0).

61 Rates for the non-Indigenous population are calculated using the total ERP for persons aged 10 years and over for the relevant state or territory minus the projected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population (aged 10 years and over).

62 Age standardised rates have been included to account for age differences between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous populations, with the former having a much larger concentration of their ERP aged between 10–29 years (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: ESTIMATED RESIDENT POPULATION, AUSTRALIA – 30 JUNE 2001
Figure 2: ESTIMATED RESIDENT POPULATION, AUSTRALIA – 30 JUNE 2001

63 The standard population used for age standardisation is the total Australian ERP at 30 June 2001. The standard population is revised every twenty five years. The next revision will be based on final estimates from the 2026 Census of Population and Housing.

64 All ERP estimates and projections for Australia exclude the external territories of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and Jervis Bay Territory. For more information on ERP, see Australian Demographic Statistics, December quarter, 2017 (cat. no. 3101.0).

COMPARABILITY

65 National standards and classifications are used in this collection to produce nationally comparable data (refer paragraphs 14–21). However, various factors can impact data quality and comparability, including:
  • Challenges with meeting national standards due to courts data systems being designed for the purpose of administration of court business (as opposed to national statistical purposes);
  • Modification overtime to data systems and methodology used to extract/compile data;
  • Refinements to data quality procedures; and
  • Legislative or operational differences across states and territories (e.g. differences in the types of sentencing options available to the courts).

66 Refer to paragraphs 75–113 for more specific state and territory information relating to data comparability.

COMPARISONS TO OTHER ABS DATA

67 Some broad comparisons of data in this collection with other ABS collections can be made e.g. basic person demographics or overall trends in offence types. However such comparisons are limited. For example, these courts data can be broadly compared with the number of court initiated police proceedings (presented in Recorded Crime – Offenders, Australia (cat. no. 4519.0)). However, the data in the two collections are not strictly comparable because:
  • not all court related actions initiated by police will proceed to a criminal court (e.g. charges may be withdrawn or changed by police during the course of an investigation);
  • prosecutions in a criminal court may be initiated by authorities other than police;
  • time lags may occur between the police initiations (to court) and the finalisation of the defendant's matter(s) in court.

COMPARISONS TO NON-ABS SOURCES

68 The data in this publication may not be comparable to data published in other national and state/territory publications due to differing scope and counting rules.

Report on Government Services

69 The Report on Government Services (RoGS), commissioned by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), provides information on the performance of Australian state and territory government services, including courts. The RoGS report provides some information that is comparable to this collection, with both reports using the same national classifications and standards (based on the Criminal Courts Data Dictionary – refer paragraph 14).

70 However, the focus of the two collections differs. The Courts chapter in the RoGS focuses on the efficiency and effectiveness of the administration of the courts, including workload indicators and financial information; whilst this publication focusses on the characteristics of finalised defendants (e.g. demographics, offences and sentences).

71 Further, there are some differences in the counting rules adopted by both collections (which result in different defendant counts) as follows:

72 Both collections have the ‘finalised defendant’ as a counting unit, however:
  • The RoGS collection defines a defendant as: ‘a person with one or more charges and with all charges having the same date of registration’; while the ABS collection defines a defendant as ‘a person or organisation against whom one or more criminal charges have been laid and which are heard together as one unit of work by a court at a particular level’. This difference means that the count of finalised defendants can be lower in the ABS collection when compared to RoGS.
  • The ABS data are further aggregated to create a 'merged’ finalised defendant (see paragraph 24).
  • The RoGS data counts both lodgements and finalisations.

73 Transfers between Higher court levels: Defendants transferred between Higher Court levels (e.g. from an Intermediate Court to a Supreme Court) would be counted as two finalisations in the RoGS collection (one in each of the two higher court levels); and once in the ABS collection (from the court level they finally left). As a result, the combined Intermediate and Supreme Court finalisations data in the RoGS will be higher than the ABS Higher Courts data.

74 Timeliness measures: Both the RoGS and ABS data contain measures of court timeliness. The ABS presents a ‘duration’ measure (see paragraphs 52–53), while the RoGS reports the backlog in a court's workload, as a percentage of the pending caseload (at 30 June).

STATE/TERRITORY SPECIFIC INFORMATION

75 This section describes state and territory specific events or processes (e.g. recording practices or legislation changes) that may impact on the comparability of state and territory data presented in this publication. Users should take these differences into consideration when comparing data across the states and territories, or over time.

Changes impacting all states/territories

76 From 2014–15 onwards, offences relating to section 47BA of the Road Traffic Act 1961 ‘driving with prescribed drug in oral fluid or blood’ have been coded to ANZSOC Group 1431 Exceed the prescribed content of alcohol or other substance limit. Prior to this, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia had been coding these offences to ANZSOC Group 0411 Driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances, despite the legislation not specifying whether the offence involved dangerous driving. Users are advised not to make direct comparisons between the number of defendants finalised for ANZSOC Divisions 04 Dangerous/negligent acts or 14 Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences across the aforementioned states and territories and across the time series, prior to 2014–15.

New South Wales

77 Duration data for the Magistrates' and Children's Courts are based on the date of first appearance rather than the date of registration, as date of registration is not captured in the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research's system (from which New South Wales courts data are derived). As such, the median duration in New South Wales Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts may be lower than in some other states and territories. This issue does not impact the Higher Courts data.

78 Sentence length for fully suspended sentences reflects the period over which the defendant must maintain good behaviour (i.e. the bond/recognizance duration), as opposed to the length of the imprisonment order that was suspended (as per ABS counting rules). For fully suspended sentences imposed for offences under the Commonwealth Crimes Act, it is possible for the bond portion to exceed the length of the imprisonment, which impacts approximately one-third of fully suspended sentences imposed for these offences.

79 New South Wales legislation does not contain discrete offences of stalking, intimidation and harassment (as per ANZSOC categories), and so all such offences are coded to ANZSOC Group 0291 Stalking. Therefore, in data from 2010–11, Stalking offences may be overstated, and ANZSOC Division 05 Abduction/harassment may be understated.

80 In September 2017, the Judicial Commission of New South Wales reclassified a number of local Law Part codes to different ANZSOC codes to improve data quality – most notably, knife offences under the Summary Offences Act, 1988. These updates impacted several ANZSOC categories in the 2015–16 and 2016–17 data (presented in the 2016–17 publication), but most notably the number of defendants with a principal offence of ANZSOC Division 11 Weapons/explosives nearly doubled; and there was a consequential decrease in defendants with a principal offence of ANZSOC Division 13 Public order offences and Division 16 Miscellaneous offences. Comparisons between this data for 2014–15 and subsequent years is not advised.

81 From late 2012, the New South Wales District Court started hearing Workplace Health and Safety prosecutions (previously dealt with by the Industrial Relations Commission) – offences which can attract significant monetary penalties. The impact of this was: an increase in finalised defendants in the Higher Courts between 2013–14 and 2014–15; and notable increases in mean and median fine amounts for ANZSOC Division 16 Miscellaneous offences (in the same periods).

Victoria

82 Community service is a sentencing option in the Children’s Courts as part of a Youth Attendance Order or Youth Supervision Order. The community service component of these orders, however, is recorded as a free text field in the data management system, and is therefore not able to be extracted for inclusion in the Victorian Children’s Courts sentencing data.

83 In January 2017, the Victorian Children’s Courts rolled out a state-wide Children’s Courts Youth Diversion (CCYD) service, following a 12 month pilot. The diversion program is targeted at young people that are charged with low level offences, have little or no criminal history, and who would otherwise have been sentenced to an outcome not requiring supervision. This has contributed to the decrease in defendants finalised in the Children’s Courts during 2017–18, impacting age, duration and principal sentence data.

84 Victorian data for 2016–17 have been revised to count a finalised defendant consistent with established counting rules. The revisions have resulted in a 2% decrease in the number of defendants finalised during 2016–17.

85 In 2016–17, offences proceeded against under the Eastlink Project Act were re-coded from ANZSOC Group 1311 Trespass to Group 1439 Regulatory driving offences, in order to improve data quality and comparability.

86 For all years prior to 2016–17, the number of defendants acquitted in the Victorian Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts are overstated, while those proven guilty and sentenced to a nominal penalty are understated. This resulted from both outcome types being recorded as ‘dismissed’ on the Victorian Court link system and thereby coded to a method of finalisation of acquitted within the historical Criminal Courts data.

87 Suspended sentences ceased to be a sentencing option in Victoria - in the County and Supreme Court on 1 September 2013, and the Magistrates’ Court on 1 September, 2014 - resulting in a decrease in these sentences from 2014–15 and increases in other principal sentence types.

88 In January 2012, changes to the Sentencing Act removed the Victorian Court's ability to impose the following sentences: community-based orders, intensive corrections orders, combined custody and treatment orders or home detention orders. These were replaced by a new Community Correction Order (CCO) which can contain a number of conditions.
  • In 2012–13, the order was mapped to Community service orders, even though not all instances required unpaid community work.
  • In 2013–14, Victoria provided all components of these orders with each condition mapped to a corresponding sentence in the ABS Sentence type classification. This allowed the ABS to derive one of these components as the principal sentence (in most cases this is a community service order). There was an initial decrease in defendants with a principal sentence of community service order, and an increase in intensive corrections orders, probation orders and treatment orders. However it should be noted that as only one component of the CCO is selected as the principal sentence, this may not reflect all aspects of the imposed order. This has resulted in Victoria having a higher proportion of community service orders compared to other states and territories.

Queensland

89 In February 2018, the Youth Justice (Transitional) Regulation, 2018 commenced. This allows for 17 year-olds who are in adult prison, on adult community-based orders or involved in adult court proceedings to be transferred to the youth justice system.

The transitional regulation means that:
  • 17 year-olds on community-based orders will transfer to Youth Justice supervision;
  • 17 year-olds in adult custody will be eligible for transfer to a youth detention centre, if it is in the child’s best interest and safety;
  • Court proceedings for 17 year-olds will transfer to the youth justice system.

These changes will result in an increase the number of defendants in the Children’s Courts and decrease the number of defendants in the Magistrates’ Courts.

90 A system change in 2017–18 has meant that data on summary offences that are transferred from the Magistrates’ Courts to the Higher Courts, have been included in Queensland data for the first time. These data relate to situations where a defendant is charged with an indictable offence and a summary offence in relation to the same incident. Upon the election of the defendant, and with the consent of the court, when the defendant is to be sentenced for the indictable offence in the higher court, the summary offences can, at that point, be transferred to the Higher Court to be sentenced at the same time. The inclusion of this data has resulted in an increase in transfers from Magistrates’ Courts to Higher Courts, and total transfers. Therefore, comparisons between 2017–18 transfers and previous years for Queensland and Australia should be made with caution.

91 Prior to 2017–18, a number of unpaid infringements for traffic offences were being lodged with the Courts by the Townsville City Council each year. From approximately July 2017, Townsville City Council ceased lodging these matters with the Courts and instead pursues payment through the State Penalties Enforcement Registry (SPER). This process change has contributed to the decrease in the number of defendants finalised in the Magistrates’ Courts – particularly for ANZSOC Division 14 Traffic and Vehicle regulatory offences.

92 Prior to 2015–16, Queensland was not able to provide detailed data on defendants proven guilty, and therefore users are advised to avoid making historical comparisons using previous editions of this publication for defendants with a method of finalisation of guilty plea by defendant, guilty finding by court, or guilty ex-parte.

South Australia

93 The introduction of adult cautioning by South Australia Police during the 2017–18 financial year reduced the number of court lodgements of minor criminal matters, including matters that would have been heard and determined by Special Justices, and those heard in the Early Resolution Court (which has ceased to operate). As a result, there have been notable decreases in the number of defendants finalised for minor criminal matters (such as traffic and vehicle regulatory offences) and in associated duration information, in the 2017–18 data.

94 In May 2016, the Statutes Amendment (Home Detention) Act, 2016 came into effect in South Australia, with provisions relevant to the Magistrates’ Court commencing on September 1, 2016. The Act, aimed at improving rehabilitation and reducing recidivism, established home detention as an alternative to a custodial sentence that may be imposed for selected offences.

95 The number of finalised defendants has decreased for 2014–15 to 2017–18 due to changes arising from the Statutes Amendments (Fines Enforcement and Recovery) Act 2013, which came into effect on 3 February 2014. The Act transferred responsibility for the collection and enforcement of fines from the Courts Administration Authority to the Fines Enforcement and Recovery Unit (managed by the South Australian Attorney-General’s Department).This resulted in decreases in defendants finalised, particularly those with a combination of guilty ex-parte finding, for a principal offence of ANZSOC Division 14 Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences, and a principal sentence of a fine.

96 For 2013–14, changes were made to how sentence length was determined for partially and fully suspended sentences, to align with national standards. Prior to this, only the imprisonment portion was included for partially suspended sentences and for fully suspended sentences, only the good behaviour bond component was included. These changes resulted in increased sentence lengths for partially suspended sentences, and decreases for fully suspended sentences in 2013–14.

Western Australia

97 In Western Australia the President of the Children’s Court is a judge who has the same powers of sentencing as a Supreme Court judge, and therefore can deal with all offences and impose both juvenile and adult penalties on an offender.

98 From 2016–17 to 2017–18, median duration decreased from 6.6 to 3.7 weeks. This is likely to be due in part to greater use of electronic lodgement processes for initiating Court actions.

99 Western Australian data for 2016–17 have been revised. For a small number of defendants with an offence under the Road Traffic Act 59BA 'careless driving causing death, grievous bodily harm or bodily harm' their reported offence was revised from ANZSOC Group 0132 Driving causing death to 0412 Dangerous or negligent operation (driving) of a vehicle.

100 For 2013–14 onwards, date of initiation for the Magistrates' and Children's Courts is based on date of registration (as per national reporting standards). Previously, the date of first appearance was provided.

101 In November 2013, Western Australia's Magistrates' and Children's Courts data were migrated to the Integrated Courts Management (ICMS). This system has different data entry and extraction procedures from the previous recording system, but is able to produce more accurate data on defendants who were proven guilty ex-parte, acquitted, transferred or had their case withdrawn by the prosecution.

102 For 2012–13, changes were made to the data reported for compound (or complex) sentencing options. Compound sentences, used in Western Australia since 1995, are Community Based Orders which comprise several components: curfew, supervision (probation), community work or a program condition. Prior to 2012–13, Intensive Supervision Orders’ (both adult and juvenile), were coded to ‘community work’ and the ‘Community Based Orders’ were coded to ‘probation’ (as per national standards). In 2012–13, all components of compound sentences were provided to the ABS, making it possible to derive a Principal sentence from these. This change resulted in an increase in the principal sentence of community service orders and a decrease in probation orders. This has resulted in a higher proportion of community service orders in Western Australia compared to other states and territories.

Tasmania

103 Sentence length and fine data are unavailable for the Higher Courts; and sentence length data for good behaviour bonds are unavailable for Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Courts.

104 The Tasmanian Police Prosecutions undertook a clearing of their case backlog in 2017–18, leading to a large increase in defendants finalised in the Magistrates’ Courts (particularly those with a non-adjudicated method of finalisation), some principal offence categories and duration.

105 During 2014–15 and 2015–16, a number of archival cases were officially closed off in the Magistrates' Court system, with these defendants finalised as ‘charges unproven not elsewhere classified’. This resulted in increases in the method of finalisation of acquitted, and duration data.

Northern Territory

106 Date of initiation in Magistrates and Children’s courts within the Northern Territory is based on the earliest of: the date the case was filed, the date the case was created or the date of first appearance.

107 In March 2016, police issued on-the-spot fines for long-term unlicensed and unregistered drivers – offences previously dealt with by the courts - came into effect in the Northern Territory. This resulted in a decrease in defendants with a principal offence in ANZSOC Division 14 Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences from 2016–17.

108 In 2012, Magistrates started to hear minor matters ex-parte (instead of issuing bench warrants) if the defendant did not appear for the court hearing. This resulted in an increase of guilty ex-parte finalisations from 2011–12.

109 In 2011–12 and 2012–13, a joint project was undertaken between the Northern Territory Department of the Attorney-General and Justice and police to clear up historic outstanding warrants and summons matters. This resulted in increases in: the number of finalisations, duration, cases withdrawn by the prosecution, and defendants with unknown Indigenous status.

Australian Capital Territory

110 Prior to 2016–17, sentence quantum data was extracted and aggregated manually from the Law Courts and Tribunal Management system. From 2016-17, this process has been automated, resulting in improved data quality.

111 During 2016–17, the ACT Department of Public Prosecutions placed increased focus on resolving outstanding charges, resulting in an increase in defendants whose charges were withdrawn by the prosecution, and in median duration for 2016–17.

112 In 2014–15, amendments were made to the coding of some local offences (to the ANZSOC) in order to improve comparability with the other states/territories. Most notably, driving offences that did not result in a fatality (previously coded to ANZSOC Group 0132 Driving causing death) were remapped to ANZSOC Group 0412 Dangerous or negligent operation of a vehicle.

113 In 2010–11, three acting judges were appointed to assist with the backlog of cases in the Supreme Court, resulting in a notable increase in cases finalised over that year.

CONFIDENTIALITY OF TABULAR DATA

114 The Census and Statistics Act 1905 provides the authority for the ABS to collect statistical information, and requires that statistical output shall not be published or disseminated in a manner that is likely to enable the identification of a particular person or organisation. To minimise the risk of identifying individuals in aggregate statistics, a technique called perturbation is used to randomly adjust cell values and summary variables. This technique, used for the first time for the 2013–14 publication, involves small random adjustment of the statistics and is considered the most satisfactory technique for avoiding the release of identifiable statistics while maximising the range of information that can be released. These adjustments have a negligible impact on the underlying pattern of the statistics.

115 The result of perturbation is that a given published cell value will be consistent across all tables, but the sum of the components of a total will not necessarily be the same as the published total, in some tables. As such, proportions may add to more or less than 100%. Readers are advised to use the published totals rather than deriving totals based on the component cells. Cells with small values may be proportionally more affected by perturbation than large values. Users are advised against conducting analyses and drawing conclusions based on small values.

116 Perturbation has been applied to all data presented in this publication (excluding the experimental FDV data cube, which utilises a different method) as well as data from 2010–11 onwards. Prior to 2013–14, a different confidentiality technique was used and therefore there may be small differences between historical data presented in the 2013–14 issue onwards and those published in previous issues.

REVISIONS

117 Selected data for Victoria and Western Australia for 2016–17 have been revised within this publication. As such, data presented in this publication may not be directly comparable with data in previous issues. For more information please refer to the ‘State and Territory Specific Information’ section.

RELATED PUBLICATIONS

ABS publications

118 Current publications and other products released by the ABS are listed on the ABS website. The ABS also issues daily Release Advice on the ABS website which details products to be released in the week ahead. For a listing of ABS publications relating to crime and justice statistics, refer to the Related Information tab.

Non-ABS publications

119 Non-ABS sources of criminal court statistics which may be of interest include: