Criminal matters are brought to the courts by a government prosecuting agency, which is generally the Director of Public Prosecutions, but can also be the Attorney-General, the police, regulatory agencies, local councils and traffic camera branches. Information on defendants brought before the courts is recorded by the court administration authorities in each state and territory for operational and case management purposes. Criminal Courts statistics are based on data extracted from these administrative records. Data are supplied to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) by the courts administering agency for all states and territories, except for Queensland (where they are supplied via the Office of the Government Statistician), and New South Wales (where they are supplied via the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research).
Criminal Courts statistics are produced by the National Criminal Courts Statistics Unit (NCCSU) of the ABS. The NCCSU functions under an intergovernmental agreement between the ABS, the Australian Government Attorney-General's department and state and territory departments responsible for justice issues. One of the major functions of the NCCSU is to compile, analyse, publish and disseminate uniform national criminal courts statistics, subject to the provisions of the Census and Statistics Act 1905.
For information on the institutional environment of the ABS, including the legislative obligations of the ABS, financing and governance arrangements, and mechanisms for scrutiny of ABS operations, please see ABS Institutional Environment in the About Us section of the ABS website.
The Criminal Courts collection provides statistics about defendants dealt with by the criminal jurisdiction of the Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Courts of Australia. Defendants include persons as well as organisations (for the Higher and Magistrates' Courts only) charged with criminal offences. Comparable statistics are provided for each of the states and territories and for Australia on the offences, case outcomes and sentence types associated with defendants dealt with by the criminal courts. If a person or organisation is a defendant in a number of criminal cases finalised within the courts during the reference period, this person or organisation will be counted more than once within that reference period.
Data from the Criminal Courts collection are released annually in Criminal Courts, Australia (cat. no. 4513.0) within 9 months of the reference period. The reference period is the financial year (1 July to 30 June). Each release includes data for the current reference year, along with time series for some data items.
Criminal Courts data are extracted from each state and territory's court administration system. The data are not subject to sampling error. Non-sampling errors can arise from inaccuracies in recording by courts agencies, when the data are extracted, processed and disseminated. The ABS has limited influence over any errors associated with data recorded by external sources. The ABS does provide a collection manual which outlines the scope, coverage, counting rules and data item definitions for the Criminal Courts collection to minimise data extraction errors. Efficient processing and editing procedures are in place within the ABS to minimise processing and reporting errors. Revisions to published data are irregular.
Revisions to historical data are made when new information about the comparability of data over time is identified. This may occur when errors or omissions are identified in the administrative data supplied to the ABS in prior years. Any revisions are noted in the publication.
In order to ensure consistency in the data for each state and territory, Criminal Courts statistics are compiled according to national standards and classifications. A key classification is the Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC) (cat. no. 1234.0), as well as the related National Offence Index (NOI) (cat. no. 1234.0.55.001). However, some differences still occur due to state and territory legislative requirements or to limitations of the various administrative databases that are used to extract the data.
Due to differing scope and counting rules, the data in the Criminal Courts publication may not be comparable to data published in other national and state/territory publications. Given the high degree of conceptual complexity in the operation of the courts systems in Australia, and the variation in the capacity of the states and territories to supply statistical information, a staged approach was adopted in the development of the Criminal Courts collection. The publication presents results from several development stages of the collection. Information relating to criminal cases heard in the Supreme and Intermediate (Higher) Courts has been available since the mid 1990's. National information about defendants finalised in the Magistrates' Courts is available from 2003–04 onwards, and in the Children's Courts from 2006–07.
The Criminal Courts publication contains detailed Explanatory Notes, Appendices and Glossary that provide information on the data sources, counting rules, terminology, classifications and other technical aspects associated with these statistics.
A data dictionary, the National Criminal Courts Data Dictionary, 2005 (cat. no. 4527.0) was developed by the ABS in collaboration with key stakeholders. It is a reference document which defines national data items and outlines methods for the use of 27 data elements and concepts that underpin the ABS and Council of Australian Governments (COAG) criminal courts collections. The data dictionary currently relates to the Higher and Magistrates' Criminal Courts.