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All states and territories, except Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory had decreases in the numbers of defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Courts in 2009-10. Tasmania (30%), South Australia (10%) and New South Wales (9%) had the largest decreases.
The decrease of 30% in Tasmania follows a 53% decrease in 2008-09. This was due to the introduction of new legislation in 2008 that allowed for infringement notices to be dealt with, without proceeding to court (see Explanatory Notes paragraph 103) (Table 3.10).
Principal offence - traffic and vehicle regulatory offences
Traffic offences accounted for the greatest proportion (42% or 254,633) of defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Courts in 2009-10. This was the same as the proportion of defendants with this offence in the previous year. The majority of these defendants have their charges adjudicated (95% or 240,891) and of these almost all (98%) are proven guilty (Table 3.1).
Within the broad category of traffic offences, defendants had their charges adjudicated in the following main categories (Table 3.4):
Of the 236,499 defendants proven guilty of traffic offences, the majority (84%) were sentenced to a monetary order and 5% received a custodial order.
Principal offence - offences other than traffic
After traffic offences, the largest proportion of defendants in 2009-10 were finalised with: public order offences (11%); acts intended to cause injury (10%); dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons; offences against justice procedures and theft (all 6%) (Table 3.5).
In 2009-10, more than three in four (77%) finalised defendants were male and under a quarter were female (21%). This proportion has remained relatively stable since 2003-04, when males comprised 78% of defendants finalised. These proportions are similar across the states and territories, ranging from 79% for males in South Australia and the Northern Territory to 75% in Western Australia (Table 3.3).
Nearly a third (32%) of defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Courts were aged under 25 years, followed by those aged 25 to 34 years (30%), 35 to 44 years (21%), and 45 years and over (16%). These proportions were similar to those in 2008-09 (Table 3.6).
Charges withdrawn by the prosecution
Defendants finalised through charges being withdrawn by the prosecution decreased by 2% from 44,725 in 2008-09 to 43,975 in 2009-10. Approximately 7% of defendants had their charges withdrawn, the same proportion as in 2008-09 (Table 3.2).
During 2009-10, the following offences had the largest proportion of defendants finalised through the withdrawal of charges by the prosecution (Table 3.5):
The Australian Capital Territory (22%), South Australia (17%) and Victoria (11%) had larger proportions of defendants whose charges were withdrawn than the national average (7%). Tasmania had the smallest proportion of defendants whose charges were withdrawn, at 1% (Table 3.3).
In 2009-10, 20,383 or 3% of defendants finalised were acquitted in the Magistrates' Courts in Australia.
Defendants finalised with public order offences and acts intended to cause injury had the largest proportion of acquitted outcomes, 10% and 8% respectively.
Of defendants finalised with traffic offences, 2% (4,392) were acquitted (Table 3.5).
The proportions of defendants acquitted varied across the states and territories with the largest proportions in Tasmania (12%), Victoria (9%) and New South Wales (5%), while Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia had the smallest (less than 1%) (Table 3.3).
Defendants proven guilty
Defendants are referred to as 'convicted' where they were proven guilty of at least one of the final charges laid against them in a court. This includes defendants who plead guilty or were found guilty, including those found guilty ex-parte.
Defendants proven guilty in the Magistrates' Courts accounted for 525,275 (87%) of defendants finalised in 2009-10, and has remained stable since 2003-04 (Table 3.2).
Almost all defendants finalised for dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons (94%) and traffic offences (93%) were proven guilty (Table 3.5).
The proportion of defendants proven guilty, of all finalised defendants, ranged from 92% in Queensland and Western Australia to 64% in the Australian Capital Territory.