4513.0 - Higher Criminal Courts, Australia, 1997-98  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 26/07/1999   
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July 26, 1999
Embargoed 11:30am (AEST)

Increase in criminal cases in the higher courts

Nationally, 17,039 defendants had criminal cases initiated in the higher courts in 1997/98, a 9% increase on 1996/97, according to figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. There were 16,406 defendants whose cases were finalised, a 5% increase on 1996/97, resulting in an increase in the number of defendants with cases pending at 30 June 1998.

More than three quarters (77%) of all defendants dealt with by the higher courts in 1997/98 had guilty outcomes, the same proportion as reported for 1996/97. Excluding Queensland, 2,869 defendants pleaded not guilty throughout their court cases and went to trial. Of these, 48% were acquitted of all charges and 52% were found guilty on one or more charges.

The ABS figures are drawn from court administrative information and cover the more serious offences dealt with by Australia's criminal courts. Included in the statistics are counts of the number of defendants whose cases were initiated, finalised and pending within the higher courts, and information is available on how defendants enter and leave the higher courts.

The median time taken in the higher courts (supreme, district and county courts) in Australia to finalise cases in 1997/98 was 21 weeks, an 8% increase on 1996/97. New South Wales and the Northern Territory recorded the longest median time taken to finalise defendants' cases at 32 weeks. Western Australia had the shortest median time taken to finalise, at 13 weeks.

The vast majority of defendants in the higher courts in 1997/98 were male (89%) and the median age was 29 years. Just over half (51%) of all defendants were aged between 17-29 years. The Australian Capital Territory had the highest proportion of female defendants at 15%. Tasmania reported the youngest median age of defendants at 25 years while Victoria had the oldest at 32 years.

More than half (56%) of the defendants who had an initial plea of not guilty later changed their plea to guilty during 1997/98. This national figure excludes Queensland, for which data was unavailable.

The number of defendants waiting to have their cases finalised in the higher courts (supreme and district/county courts) during 1997/98 rose in all States and Territories except South Australia and the Northern Territory. Data for Queensland was unavailable.

For those defendants with cases still pending at 30 June 1998, the median elapsed time that they had been waiting since the start of their cases was 24 weeks (this national figure excludes Queensland).

Further details are available in Higher Criminal Courts, 1997/98 (cat. no. 4513.0) available from ABS bookshops. The publication's main findings can be found on this site. The ABS encourages media organisations with online news services to link to the main findings. Please phone us if you need assistance to do this.