1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2004  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/02/2004   
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Contents >> Crime and justice >> The criminal justice system

The criminal justice system consists of the state/territory and Australian Government institutions, agencies, departments and personnel responsible for dealing with the justice aspects of crime, victims of crime, persons accused or convicted of committing a crime, and related issues and processes.

Each state and territory has its own police, courts and corrections systems that deal with offences against local laws and also federal laws in some cases, while the federal criminal justice system deals with offences against Commonwealth laws. Criminal law is administered principally through the federal, state and territory police, the courts, and state and territory corrective services. As there is no independent federal corrective service, the relevant state or territory agencies provide corrective services for federal offenders.

The states and territories have independent legislative powers in relation to all matters that are not otherwise specifically vested in the Commonwealth of Australia. It is the statute law and the common law of the states and territories that primarily govern the day-to-day lives of most Australians.

The eight states and territories have powers to enact their own criminal laws, while the Commonwealth has powers to enact laws, including sanctions for criminal offences, in relation to its responsibilities under the Constitution. Thus there are nine different systems of criminal law in Australia. The existence of cooperative arrangements between the various states and territories and the Commonwealth, such as those relating to extradition or to the creation of joint police services, helps address issues that have arisen out of the separate development of these various systems of criminal law.

The various agencies that comprise the criminal justice system act within a broader process in which criminal offenders interact with police, courts and corrective services. Diagram 11.1 illustrates the various stages involved in the processing of criminal cases and shows some of the links between these three elements of the criminal justice system.

The police, as well as other agencies such as Australian Customs Service (ACS), are responsible for the prevention, detection and investigation of crimes. When alleged offenders are detected by police, they can be proceeded against either through the use of a non-court process (such as a caution, fine or diversionary conference) or charges may be laid before a criminal court. The court, including judicial officers and a jury (in the higher courts), with the assistance of the prosecution and the defence, determines the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

Following the hearing of the charges, in cases where a finding of guilt is made by the court, sentences may be imposed. These may include imprisonment, community service orders of various kinds, fines or bonds. A number of jurisdictions have also introduced penalties such as home detention or work outreach camps that are administered by correctional agencies. Fines and bonds are the most common penalties handed down by the courts.

Graphic - 11.1 Flows through the criminal justice system

Source: ABS unpublished paper, 'National Criminal Justice Statistical Framework, July 2001'.

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