The criminal justice system consists of the State/Territory and Commonwealth 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.
In all States and Territories, two systems of criminal justice exist: the federal criminal justice system, based on offences against Commonwealth laws; and the relevant State system, based on offences against State laws. Criminal law is administered principally through the federal, State and Territory police, the National Crime Authority, the courts and State and Territory corrective or penal services. There is no independent federal corrective service, and 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, and 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 law, while the Commonwealth has powers to enact laws, including sanctions for criminal offences, in relation to its responsibilities under the Constitution. Thus, in effect, there are nine different systems of criminal law in existence in Australia.
The various agencies that comprise the criminal justice system can be seen as acting within a broader process in which criminal incidents and offenders move through a number of stages. Figure 11.1 indicates these broad stages and the points at which the different justice agencies make their contribution.
Police agencies are responsible for the prevention, detection and investigation of crimes. Where an alleged offender is detected by police, charges may then be laid before a criminal court. The court, consisting of a judicial officer, a jury (in the higher courts), the prosecution and the defence, determines the guilt or innocence of the defendant.
In addition to the court itself, a number of other agencies are involved in the court process. These include legal representatives for the prosecution and defence of alleged offenders. Police Prosecutors are generally responsible for less serious matters heard before courts of summary jurisdiction, while Crown Prosecutors normally handle prosecution of the more serious matters dealt with at the Supreme or Intermediate (District or County) court levels. For defendants, legal aid may be available to handle their defence.
Following the hearing of the charges, in cases where a finding of guilt is made by the court a sentence may be imposed. These may include imprisonment, community work of various kinds, fines or bonds. A number of jurisdictions have also introduced penalties such as home detention or work outreach camps which are administered by correctional agencies. Fines and bonds are the most common penalties handed down by the courts.
For victims of crime, compensation may be available through the courts, and this is normally handled through a special tribunal. The State provides compensation to victims who can demonstrate an injury or suffering as a result of a criminal incident. The State will then seek these funds from the offender, if they have been identified and convicted.
11.1 The Criminal Justice System