4513.0 - Criminal Courts, Australia, 2017-18 Quality Declaration 
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 28/02/2019   
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Australian state and territory criminal courts finalised 592,455 defendants in 2017–18, a decrease of 2% (12,074) on the previous year. (Table 1)

The rate of defendants finalised nationally was 2,714 per 100,000 persons aged 10 years and over - the lowest defendant rate since 2010–11. (Table 48)

Of all finalised defendants:

  • 88% (519,253) had their matter(s) adjudicated, most of whom were proven guilty (507,169)
  • 92% (545,251) were finalised in the Magistrates’ Courts
  • Three in four were male (446,606)
  • The median age was 32 years. (Table 1)

Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences remain most common principal offence

Three-quarters of all defendants had a principal offence1 in one of five offence categories:
  • Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences – 35% (206,838)
  • Acts intended to cause injury – 13% (78,343), predominantly Assault (72,103)
  • Illicit drug offences – 11% (63,508)
  • Offences against justice – 8% (49,347)
  • Theft – 8% (46,629).

Traffic offences have consistently been the most common offence type heard in the courts (since 2010–11), accounting for over a third of all defendants finalised. However these offences decreased for the second consecutive year, down 4% (8,447) during 2017–18, which contributed to most of the overall drop in defendants finalised during the reference period. (Table 1)

DEFENDANTS FINALISED, Selected principal offence, 2016–17 to 2017–18
DEFENDANTS FINALISED, Selected principal offence, 2016–17 to 2017–18
Australian Bureau of Statistics
Commonwealth of Australia 2019.

Illicit drug offences decreased for the first time in seven years

From 2016–17 to 2017–18, offences which decreased included:
  • Illicit drug offences – down 2% (1,494), the first decrease for this offence since 2010–11
  • Public order offences – down 13% (3,684). (Table 1)

Part of the decrease in these offences (along with the drop in traffic offences) may be attributed to an increasing number of some ‘lower level’ offences, such as public disorder and minor drug possession, being diverted away from the court process.2

Offence categories that increased included:
  • Robbery/extortion – up 13% (573), to reach the highest level since 2012–13
  • Acts intended to cause injury – up 3% (2,354)
  • Sexual assault and related offences – up 5% (446).

These increases are attributable in part to the inclusion of additional data on transfers in Queensland, which resulted in an increase in the national count of defendants finalised.3

Offences against justice also increased (up 4%, 2,071), mostly due to a 40% (2,614) rise in offences against government operations (which includes failing to vote at an election). (Table 1)

Children’s Courts have highest proportion of defendants with Assault, Theft or Unlawful entry with intent offences

More than half of all defendants finalised in the Children’s Courts during 2017–18 had one of three principal offences:
  • Assault (21%, 5,952)
  • Theft (20%, 5,659)
  • Unlawful entry with intent (15%, 4,144). (Table 1)

PROPORTION OF DEFENDANTS FINALISED, Selected principal offence by court level, 2017–18
PROPORTION OF DEFENDANTS FINALISED, Selected principal offence by court level, 2017–18
Australian Bureau of Statistics
Commonwealth of Australia 2019.

In the Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts the majority of defendants proven guilty were sentenced to a non-custodial order:
  • In the Magistrates’ Courts, three in five defendants (63%, 298,182) received monetary orders – mostly fines – for which the median fine amount (for all offence types) was $500.
  • In the Children’s Courts, other non-custodial orders were the most common sentence type (53% of defendants proven guilty, 11,782), which include good behaviour bonds, recognisance orders, licence disqualification/suspension, forfeiture of property orders and nominal penalties.

In the Higher Courts, where the more serious offences are heard, the majority (71%, 10,904) were sentenced to custody in a correctional institution, for which the median sentence length4 was two and a half years. (Tables 7, 57 and 60)

Experimental Family and Domestic Violence (FDV) Statistics5

Of those defendants finalised for at least one Family and Domestic Violence (FDV) offence6 in 2017–18 in the selected states and territories:7
  • Over 90% were finalised in the Magistrates’ Courts
  • More than four out of five were male
  • Assault was the most common FDV offence, except in Queensland, where Breach of violence order was the most common
  • Of those proven guilty, the majority received a non-custodial order, except in the Northern Territory, where the majority received a sentence of custody in a correctional institution (72%, 2,115). (FDV Tables 1 and 2)


1 Refers to the most serious offence for a finalised defendant (see Explanatory Notes 29–33).
2 See Explanatory Notes 83, 91, 93 and 95.
3 See Explanatory Notes 89 and 90.
4 Excluding life and indeterminate imprisonment (see Explanatory Note 48).
5 The FDV data presented is experimental, with further work required to improve the comparability and quality of these data before they can be included in the main suite of the publication. Caution should be exercised when using the data and making comparisons across states and territories. Refer to the FDV Explanatory Notes for more information.
6 FDV offences included in this collection: ANZSOC Divisions 01 Homicide and related offences, 02 Acts intended to cause injury, 03 Sexual assault and related offences and 05 Abduction/harassment; Sub-divisions 049 Other dangerous or negligent acts and 121 Property damage; and Group 1531 Breach of violence order.
7 2017–18 FDV data are available for New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.