Criminal Courts, Australia methodology

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Reference period
2020-21 financial year

Data collection

Scope and coverage

The Criminal Courts, Australia, 2020–21 publication presents information about defendants who were finalised in the criminal jurisdictions of the Higher (Supreme and District/County Courts), Magistrates' and Children's Courts across Australia’s states and territories, during the reference period 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021. Information is presented about the offences, outcomes and sentences associated with these defendants.

Time series data are presented for 2010–11 onward. Additional data can be found in historical editions of this publication (via the ABS website): Higher Courts from 1995, Magistrates' Courts from 2003–04 (experimental data for 2001–02 and 2002–03 are also available), and the Children's Courts from 2006–07 (experimental data for 2005–06 are also available).

The following are not within the scope of the Criminal Courts collection:

  • Civil court matters
  • Appeal cases
  • Tribunal matters
  • Cases which do not require the adjudication of charges (e.g. bail reviews and applications to amend sentences or penalties)
  • Defendants for whom a bench warrant is issued but not executed
  • Finalisations in specialist courts, such as Drug Courts, Electronic Courts, Fine Recovery Units and Indigenous courts
  • Pre-court diversionary programs (e.g. warnings, cautions, drug diversions, conferencing)
  • Bench warrants in the Higher Courts
  • Referrals to mental health review tribunals (e.g. for determination of fitness for trial)

The following offences (based on the Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification, 2011 (ANZSOC)) are excluded:

  • Breach of home detention (1512)
  • Breach of suspended sentence (1513)
  • Breach of community service order (1521)
  • Breach of parole (1522)
  • Breach of bail (1523)
  • Breach of bond – probation (1524)
  • Breach of bond – other (1525)
  • Breach of community-based order, n.e.c. (1529)

Defendants finalised on Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island are included in the counts for Western Australia, where applicable. Defendants finalised in Jervis Bay Territory and Norfolk Island are not included.

Data source

Statistics presented in this publication are compiled based on administrative unit record data supplied to the ABS by the agencies responsible for courts administration in each state and territory, except for Queensland (where data are supplied via the Office of the Government Statistician), and New South Wales (where data are supplied via the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research).

In order to ensure consistency between the states and territories, each one is required to provide data coded to national classifications and standards. For more information see ‘Classifications’.

Data processing

Counting methodology

The counting unit for this collection is the finalised defendant.

A finalised defendant is defined as a person or organisation for whom all charges within a case have been formally completed so that they cease to be an active item of work for the court during the reference period.

The Criminal Courts collection does not count unique persons, instead the following rules are applied:

  • Where a defendant is finalised for more than one case, on the same date and in the same court level, their records are merged, and they are counted as one finalised defendant
  • Where a defendant is finalised for more than one case, on separate dates within the reference period, they will be counted once for each date they were finalised
  • Where a defendant is finalised in the Magistrates' Courts whilst other charges are committed to, and finalised in the Higher Courts, they will be counted once for each court level they were finalised in during the reference period


The following counting rules apply with regards to defendants transferred from, or between court levels:

  • Defendants transferred from one Higher Court level to another Higher Court level (for example from a County Court to Supreme Court) are considered as finalised only once (from the level they finally left)
  • Defendants transferred from a Magistrates' Court or Children’s Court to a Higher Court (or vice versa) are considered as finalised twice (once in each of the courts)
  • Defendants transferred from the Magistrates' or Children's Courts to Specialist Courts for finalisation (e.g. Drug Courts, Indigenous Courts) are considered finalised (by transfer) in the criminal court that initiated the transfer. Defendants may then, upon completion of the program, return to the court that requested the transfer, for an additional finalisation

From 2019–20 onwards, transfers are excluded from defendant counts in some tables in order to remove the double-counting of defendants who were transferred and subsequently adjudicated in a different court level. Excluding transfers enables a more accurate representation of defendant characteristics, particularly for more serious offences where transfers are more common.

Data items

Defendants who were finalised for more than one offence will have counting rules applied to determine their principal method of finalisation, offence, sentence type and other characteristics for inclusion in data tables.


The categories used for defendant sex are: male, female, organisations, other and unknown. The number of defendants in the category of ‘other’ is currently not published due to small numbers and inconsistent use, though these defendants are included within the total.

Indigenous status

This publication presents data on the Indigenous status of defendants finalised in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory. Based on ABS assessment, Indigenous status data for other states and territories are not of sufficient quality and/or did not meet ABS standards for national reporting in 2020–21. The ABS continues to work towards improving the quality and coverage of Indigenous status data for this collection.

Indigenous status data are based on information collected and recorded by police and transferred to courts systems (upon defendant initiation in the courts). The police information is based upon self-identification by the individual (or via a response from next of kin/guardian). As such, the quality of the Indigenous status data presented in this publication is dependent on police seeking and recording this information, and whether it can be transferred to the courts administrative systems.

Defendants proceeded against for traffic offences often do not have Indigenous status information recorded due to these offences usually being dealt with by road traffic authorities. As such, Dangerous or negligent operation of a vehicle (ANZSOC Subdivision 041) and Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences (ANZSOC Division 14) are excluded from Indigenous status tables and associated commentary presented in this publication.

Other offences that may be actioned by prosecuting agencies other than police (and therefore likely have low quality Indigenous status information), include: public order offences, offences against justice, and miscellaneous offences. This should be considered when comparing the Indigenous status of defendants for these offence categories.

Court levels

Data are reported at three court levels: Higher Courts, Magistrates’ Courts and Children’s Courts.

In this publication, the Higher Courts comprises the Supreme and Intermediate Courts. All states and territories have a Supreme Court that deals with the most serious criminal matters, generally referred to as an indictable offence (e.g. murder, manslaughter, serious sexual offences, assault, drug trafficking, robbery). The larger states (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia) also have an intermediate level of court, known as the District Court or County Court, which deal with most serious offences. All defendants that are dealt with by the Higher Courts have an automatic entitlement to a trial before a judge and jury. In some states and territories, the defendant may elect to have their matter(s) heard before a judge alone. Children treated as adults by the court may be included in the Higher Courts defendant counts.

The lowest level of Criminal Court is the Magistrates’ Court (also known as the Court of Summary Jurisdiction, Local Court or Court of Petty Sessions) which hears most criminal cases. Cases heard in the Magistrates’ Courts do not involve a jury – rather, a magistrate determines whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. Children treated as adults by the courts may also be finalised in the Magistrates' Courts.

Each state and territory has Children's Courts to deal with offences alleged to have been committed by a child or juvenile. These courts mainly hear summary proceedings but do have the power to hear indictable matters in some states and territories. A person can only be charged with a criminal offence where they are aged 10 years or over. Defendants are considered to be a child/juvenile where they are under 18 years of age at the time they committed an offence. Prior to February 2018, defendants in Queensland were considered to be a child/juvenile by the courts where they were aged under 17 years.

Principal offence 

The principal offence presented in this collection refers to the most serious offence (based on ANZSOC) associated with a finalised defendant. For defendants finalised with a single offence type, this is their principal offence.

For defendants with multiple offence charges finalised at the same time, the following are used to assign a principal offence:

For 2017–18 and prior years, the principal offence is based on the method of finalisation and NOI only. The 2020–21 publication introduced sentence type and length/amount to the principal offence allocation rule, for data from 2018–19 onwards.

Where a defendant has multiple charges, their principal offence is determined using a multi-step process. The first is to code the outcome for each offence to a method of finalisation group, which is then ranked as follows:

  • Defendant deceased, unfit to plead, or not guilty by reason of mental illness
  • Charges with guilty outcome
  • Charges not proven
  • Transfer of charges to other court levels
  • Charges withdrawn
  • Other non-adjudicated finalisation
  • Unknown/not stated

The charge with the highest ranked method of finalisation group is allocated as the principal offence.

If there are multiple charges with the same method of finalisation group, the offence with the most serious sentence (based on the Sentence Type Classification) is allocated as the principal offence. If multiple charges received the same sentence type, the offence with the greatest sentence length/amount is allocated as the principal offence.

The NOI, which ranks offences according to perceived seriousness, is used to select the principal offence where there are multiple charges and they have the same method of finalisation group, sentence type and sentence length/amount.

For example, for a defendant with guilty outcomes for assault receiving a three-month sentence of custody in a correctional facility, and import of illicit drugs receiving a nine-month sentence of custody in a correctional facility, their principal offence would be import of illicit drugs. This is different from the methodology previously used, where the principal offence would be assault. Any charges for the same defendant withdrawn or not proven is not considered.

Method of finalisation

Method of finalisation refers to how a criminal charge is concluded by a criminal court. For defendants who had multiple charges with varying outcomes, the method of finalisation is assigned based on the following order of precedence:

  • Defendant deceased
  • Unfit to plead
  • Not guilty by reason of mental illness/condition
  • Guilty finding by court
  • Charge proven n.f.d.
  • Guilty plea by defendant
  • Guilty ex parte (Magistrates’ Courts and Children’s Court only)
  • Acquitted by court
  • Charge unproven n.f.d.
  • No case to answer at committal (Magistrates’ Courts and Children’s Court only)
  • Charge unproven n.e.c.
  • Committed for trial (Magistrates’ Courts and Children’s Court only)
  • Committed for sentence
  • Transfer between court levels
  • Transfer to non-court agency
  • Withdrawn by the prosecution
  • Other non-adjudicated finalisation n.e.c.
  • Unknown/not stated

Principal sentence 

Defendants with more than one sentence type (for either a single offence or multiple offences) are assigned a principal sentence, which is intended to reflect the most serious sentence based on the hierarchy of the Sentence Type Classification.

Defendants can receive:

  • A single sentence for a single offence with a guilty outcome
  • A single sentence for multiple offences with a guilty outcome
  • Multiple sentences for a single offence with a guilty outcome
  • Multiple sentences for multiple offences with a guilty outcome

‘Global’ or multi-offence sentences refer to instances where a single sentence type applies to more than one offence. This sentencing practice is used in some states and territories and may result in overstated quantum information (i.e. sentence length or fine amount) for the associated offence (i.e. the quantum is actually associated with more than the one offence).  

Concurrent sentences refer to sentences that commence at the same time, whereas cumulative sentences are served one after the other.

Compound (or ‘complex’) sentences can be broadly defined as sentences, served in the community, that include various components, elements, or conditions, such as program attendance, community work, drug or alcohol treatment, counselling and education. These sentences are becoming increasingly common across states and territories due to their flexibility, with judges/magistrates being able to tailor a sentence to suit the circumstances of an offender and the severity of their offences, whilst providing for both restitution and rehabilitative sentencing principles.

Given the flexibility of the conditions imposed as part of a compound sentence, there is currently no single sentence in the Sentence Type Classification that accurately and comparably reflects these sentences. Only the most serious component of a compound sentence is shown as the principal sentence. As such, sentence data presented in this publication should be interpreted with caution.

There are some differences in the availability and application of sentence types across states and territories, and over time (see ‘State and territory notes’), which should be taken into consideration when interpreting sentence data.

Sentence length and fine amount

The sentence length and fine amount data presented in this publication represents the most severe penalty dealt to a defendant with a guilty outcome. This is determined using the Sentence Type Classification and the largest sentence length, or fine amount dealt for that sentence.

There are some differences across states and territories in the sentence length data for ‘custody in a correctional institution’, due to whether the time a defendant spends in custody prior to sentencing (i.e. ‘time already served’) is included or not.

The following rules are applied in specific circumstances:

  • For sentences with terms to be served concurrently or cumulatively, the sentence length or fine amount is the largest value associated with the principal sentence.
  • For terms of imprisonment, the sentence length presented is the total period of the sentence imposed, not the 'minimum sentence' or non-parole period.

Sentence length data for partially suspended sentences reflects the full period (i.e. the period suspended and the period in custody).

Life and indeterminate sentences do not have a determined term and hence are excluded from mean and median sentence length calculations. However, from 2019–20 onwards, defendants with these sentences are counted within the category of sentence lengths ‘10 years and over’.


Duration is a measure of court timeliness, representing the time taken (in days) between the date a defendant’s case(s) was initiated in court and the date they ceased to be an item of work for the court as follows:

Duration = Date of finalisation – Date of initiation + 1

Rate of defendants finalised

The rate of defendants finalised is expressed as the number of defendants (excluding organisations) per 100,000 of the ABS Estimated Resident Population (ERP), for persons aged 10 years and over. The ERP used in these calculations are taken at the mid-point of the relevant reference period (e.g. 31 December 2020 for the 2020–21 reference period). Rates presented by sex and age are based on ERP for the relevant sex or age group.

Rates for the non-Indigenous population are calculated using the total ERP for persons aged 10 years and over for the relevant state or territory minus the projected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population (aged 10 years and over). 

Crude rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander defendants are expressed per 100,000 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population (aged 10 years and over) as at 31 December, 2020 and are based on Series B in Estimates and Projections, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2006 to 2031.

Age standardised rates have been included to account for age differences between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous populations, with the former having a much larger concentration of their ERP aged between 10–29 years.

The standard population used for age standardisation is the total Australian ERP at 30 June 2001. The standard population is revised every twenty-five years. The next revision will be based on final estimates from the 2026 Census of Population and Housing.

The ERP estimates and projections used in this release exclude Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Jervis Bay Territory and Norfolk Island.

Rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait defendants were revised in 2020–21, including historical revisions within the publication, due to new data becoming available.


The rules to determine the Principal Offence (the 'most serious' offence) have been updated and applied to data from 2018–19 onwards.

Rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait defendants were revised in 2020–21, including historical revisions within the publication, due to new data becoming available.

In 2019–20, some fully suspended sentences in the Tasmanian Higher Court were incorrectly recorded as ‘custody in a correctional institution’. The 2020–21 release includes revised 2019–20 data that resolves this issue.

Data release


Classifications provide a framework for organising and presenting data in a comparable and consistent manner. The key classifications used for this collection are:


Offence data are presented according to the Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC), 2011.

For ease of reading, some ANZSOC offence names have been abbreviated throughout this publication as follows:

  • Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons appear as 'Dangerous/negligent acts'
  • Abduction, harassment and other offences against the person appear as 'Abduction/harassment'
  • Robbery, extortion and related offences appear as ‘Robbery/extortion’
  • Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter appear as 'Unlawful entry with intent'
  • Theft and related offences appear as ‘Theft’
  • Fraud, deception and related offences appear as ‘Fraud/deception’
  • Prohibited and regulated weapons and explosives offences appear as 'Weapons/explosives'
  • Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations appear as 'Offences against justice'
  • Child pornography is also referred to as child abuse material offences.

Method of finalisation

Method of finalisation refers to how a criminal charge is concluded by a criminal court.  The Method of Finalisation Classification contains the main categories of:

  • Adjudicated finalisation – a judgement or decision by the court as to whether or not the defendant is guilty of the charge(s) against them
  • Non-adjudicated finalisation – a charge(s) considered to have been completed even though a judgement has not been handed down by the court (e.g. withdrawn by the prosecution, defendant deceased, unfit to plead, or transfers to non-court agencies)
  • Transfers to other court levels – a court order for the criminal charge(s) to be transferred to another court level for adjudication or sentencing

Sentence type

The Sentence Type Classification describes the types of sentences that are handed down by the court for offences with a guilty outcome, including the main categories of:

  • Custodial orders – sentences that restrict the liberty of a defendant for a specified period of time (e.g. detainment in an institution or home, or regular supervision by corrections personnel while residing in the community).
  • Non-custodial orders – sentences that do not involve being held in custody (e.g. fines, community service orders, good behaviour bonds)

In some cases, defendants with a method of finalisation of 'not guilty by reason of mental illness/condition' may have some kind of sentence/order imposed. However, these sentences are not included in this collection.


The Census and Statistics Act 1905 provides the authority for the ABS to collect statistical information, and requires that statistical output shall not be published or disseminated in a manner that is likely to enable the identification of a particular person or organisation. To minimise the risk of identifying individuals in aggregate statistics, perturbation has been applied to all data presented in this publication, to randomly adjust cell values and summary variables. This technique, used for the first time for the 2013–14 publication, involves small, random adjustment of the statistics and is considered the most satisfactory technique for avoiding the release of identifiable statistics while maximising the range of information that can be released. These adjustments have a negligible impact on the underlying pattern of the statistics.

The result of perturbation is that a given published cell value will be consistent across all tables, but the sum of the components of a total will not necessarily be the same as the published total, in some tables. As such, proportions may add to more or less than 100%. Readers are advised to use the published totals rather than deriving totals based on the component cells. Cells with small values may be proportionally more affected by perturbation than large values. Users are advised against conducting analyses and drawing conclusions based on small values.

Data comparability

State and territory notes

Every state and territory have their own courts systems that operate under state and territory laws, determined by state and territory governments, that are largely independent of each other. 

National standards and classifications are used in this collection to produce nationally comparable data (see ‘Classifications’). However, various factors can impact data quality and comparability, including:

  • Data systems being designed for the purpose of administration of court business (as opposed to national statistical purposes)
  • Modification to data systems and methodology used to extract/compile data
  • Refinements to data quality procedures
  • Legislative or operational differences (e.g. differences in the types of sentencing options available to the courts)

Changes impacting multiple states and territories

From March 2020 onwards, Australia’s federal, state and territory governments put restrictions in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These restrictions led to a decrease in the number of defendants finalised due to direct court-related impacts such as the deferral of courts cases, and indirect impacts such as reduced motor vehicle use.  Decreases in particular offence types contributed to overall changes in method of finalisation, sentence and duration.

From July 2020, Victoria was disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and this is visible in the Criminal Courts data as an ongoing decrease in the number of defendants finalised. The number of defendants finalised in most other states and territories returned towards pre-COVID levels as restrictions were eased. Any impacts from July 2021 onwards may be visible in the 2021–22 data, due for release in early 2023.

From 2014–15 onwards, offences relating to section 47BA of the Road Traffic Act 1961 ‘driving with prescribed drug in oral fluid or blood’ have been coded to ANZSOC Group 1431 Exceed the prescribed content of alcohol or other substance limit. Prior to this, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia had been coding these offences to ANZSOC Group 0411 Driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances, despite the legislation not specifying whether the offence involved dangerous driving.

New South Wales

Duration data for the Magistrates' and Children's Courts are based on the date of first appearance rather than the date of registration, as date of registration is not captured in the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research's system (from which New South Wales courts data are derived). As such, the median duration in New South Wales Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts may be lower than in some other states and territories. This issue does not impact the Higher Courts data.

Drink and drug driving reforms were implemented in New South Wales on 20 May 2019 as part of the Road Safety Plan 2021. Drivers with first-time low-level drink driving and drug-presence offences can be dealt with through an infringement notice process instead of being processed through the courts, reducing the number of fines issued by the NSW courts.

Sentence reforms were introduced in New South Wales on 24 September 2018. Intensive correction orders were changed, making supervision mandatory and allowing for a range of conditions to be imposed, including home detention and community service work. Suspended sentences were repealed, as were home detention and community service orders as individual sentences. Good behaviour bonds and non-conviction bonds were also repealed, replaced by community correction orders and conditional release orders. These changes contributed to noticeable increases in custody in the community and community supervision/work orders and noticeable decreases in fully suspended sentences, fines and other non-custodial orders. 

The Table Offences Reform involved reclassifying some strictly indictable offences (matters that must be dealt with by the Higher Court) as 'Table offences' that can be dealt with in the local court. The first tranche implemented in November 2016 involved a subset of 'break and enter' offences. The second tranche was implemented in two phases: in April 2018 (a subset of theft offences) and July 2018 (a subset of robbery and illicit drug offences). Analysis of the impact of both tranches of Table Offences Reform show that reclassifying offences from strictly indictable to Table offences reduced the number of matters finalised in the District Court and court duration, and decreased the number of longer custodial sentences.

The Early Appropriate Guilty Plea reform was implemented in New South Wales in May 2018. This reform was employed to encourage defendants to plead guilty earlier in the process through the introduction of structured behavioural incentives. This has increased the proportion of cases committed to the Higher Court where a guilty plea had been entered in the Local Court, and has reduced the overall duration of cases in the Higher Courts.

In September 2017, the Judicial Commission of New South Wales reclassified a number of local Law Part codes to different ANZSOC codes to improve data quality – most notably, knife offences under the Summary Offences Act, 1988. These updates were backcast to several ANZSOC categories from 2015–16, most notably leading to an increase in the number of defendants with a principal offence of ANZSOC Division 11 Weapons/explosives, and decrease in both ANZSOC Division 13 Public order offences and Division 16 Miscellaneous offences.

New South Wales legislation does not contain discrete offences of stalking, intimidation and harassment (as per ANZSOC categories), and so all such offences are coded to ANZSOC Group 0291 Stalking. Therefore, Stalking offences may be overstated and ANZSOC Division 05 Abduction/harassment may be understated.


Although community service is a sentencing option in the Children’s Courts as part of a youth attendance order or youth supervision order, the community service component of these orders is recorded as a free text field in the data management system. It is therefore not able to be extracted for inclusion in the Victorian Children’s Courts sentencing data.

The commencement of the Fines Reform Act in December 2017 saw a substantial change in legislation which governs how an infringement matter is commenced in the Magistrates’ Courts. This has resulted in a decrease in defendants finalised in the Magistrates’ Courts, particularly for traffic offences from 2017–18 onwards.

In January 2017, the Victorian Children’s Courts rolled out a state-wide Children’s Courts Youth Diversion service, following a 12-month pilot. The diversion program is targeted at young people who are charged with low level offences, have little or no criminal history, and who would otherwise have been sentenced to an outcome not requiring supervision. This contributed to a decrease in defendants finalised in the Children’s Courts during 2017–18, impacting age, duration and principal sentence data.

For all years prior to 2016–17, the number of defendants acquitted in the Victorian Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts are overstated, while those with a guilty outcome and sentenced to a nominal penalty are understated. This resulted from both outcome types being recorded as ‘dismissed’ on the Victorian Court link system and thereby coded to a method of finalisation of acquitted within the historical Criminal Courts data.

From 1 September 2013, suspended sentences ceased to be a sentencing option in the County and Supreme Courts (Higher Courts) in Victoria, and in the Magistrates’ Courts on 1 September 2014.  This resulted in a decrease in these sentences from 2014–15 and increases in other principal sentence types.

In January 2012, changes to the Sentencing Act removed the Victorian Courts’ ability to impose the following sentences: community-based orders, intensive corrections orders, combined custody and treatment orders or home detention orders. These were replaced by a new community correction order (CCO) which can contain a number of conditions. In 2012–13, the order was mapped to community service orders, and from 2013–14 more detail of complex sentences was provided, which improved the accuracy of coding to the Sentence Type Classification. This resulted in an increase in defendants with a principal sentence of community service order, and an increase in intensive corrections orders, probation orders and treatment orders. Only the most serious component of such complex sentences is reflected by the Principal Sentence, and this has resulted in Victoria having a higher proportion of community services orders compared to other states and territories.


In February 2018, the Youth Justice (Transitional) Regulation commenced, with the age range for the youth justice system including 17 year olds, who had previously been included within the adult justice system.

These changes resulted in:

  • An increase in the number of defendants finalised during 2017–18 in the Magistrates’ Court, via a transfer to the Children’s Courts
  • An increase in the number of defendants finalised in the Children's Courts during 2018–19
  • A subsequent decrease in the number of defendants finalised in the Magistrates’ Courts during 2018–19

In Queensland, a defendant can elect to have a summary offence transferred to the Higher Courts (with the consent of the court), where they have also been charged with an indictable offence in the same incident, so the matter(s) can be sentenced at the same time. For the 2017–18 release of this publication, these types of transfers were included in Queensland data for the first time, following improvements to administrative systems. This resulted in an increase in transfers from Magistrates’ Courts to Higher Courts for Queensland during 2017–18, and therefore, users are advised to exercise caution when comparing transfers data in Queensland (and Australia) with data prior to 2017–18.

South Australia

In 2020–21, it was identified that the process for transferring SIQ (Standard Indigenous Question) indicators through the SA Police data management system to the court system was affected in instances where it was manually entered as a new case instead of using the Police Case Number, causing SIQ answers to be understated.

Prior to 2020–21, defendants who had a guilty outcome but received no sentence or a nominal sentence due to time already served on remand were being coded as receiving a nominal penalty. These are now coded as a custodial sentence of unknown quantum, to more accurately reflect the real-world experience of the defendant and improve alignment with others states and territories.

From 2019–20, cases that are dismissed by the judiciary are coded as ‘Charge unproven n.e.c.’ where they were previously coded as ‘Withdrawn by prosecution’. This contributed to a decrease in cases reported as withdrawn and corresponding increase in cases reported in the broader category of ‘Acquittals’.

In November 2018, the SAPOL Shield data management system was introduced by South Australia Police. This led to some changes in data collection that may impact data movements.

In March 2018, the Summary Procedure (Indictable Offences) Amendment Act 2017 was enacted. This led to a number of process changes which contributed to an increase in case duration and fewer cases heard in the Higher Courts.

From December 2016, the introduction of adult cautioning by South Australia Police reduced the number of court lodgements of minor criminal matters, including matters that would have been heard and determined by Special Justices, and those heard in the Early Resolution Court (which has ceased to operate). As a result, there were notable decreases in the number of defendants finalised for minor criminal matters (such as traffic and vehicle regulatory offences) and in associated duration information, in the 2017–18 data.

In 2016 the Statutes Amendment (Home Detention) Act, 2016 established home detention as an alternative to a custodial sentence for selected offences heard by the Magistrates’ Court. This led to an increase in defendants sentenced to custody in the community in 2016–17.

In February 2014, the Statutes Amendments (Fines Enforcement and Recovery) Act 2013 came into effect causing a decrease in the number of finalised defendants from 2014–15 onwards. The Act transferred responsibility for the collection and enforcement of fines from the Courts Administration Authority to the Fines Enforcement and Recovery Unit (managed by the South Australian Attorney-General’s Department). This resulted in decreases in defendants finalised, particularly those with a combination of guilty ex parte finding, a principal offence of ANZSOC Division 14 Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences, and a principal sentence of a fine.

In 2013–14, changes were made to how sentence length was determined for partially and fully suspended sentences, to align with national standards. Prior to this, only the imprisonment portion was included for partially suspended sentences, and for fully suspended sentences only the good behaviour bond component was included. These changes resulted in increased sentence lengths for partially suspended sentences, and decreases for fully suspended sentences in 2013–14.

Western Australia

For 2013–14 onwards, date of initiation for the Magistrates' and Children's Courts is based on date of registration (as per national reporting standards). Previously, the date of first appearance was provided.

From 2012–13, changes were made to the data reported for compound (or complex) sentencing options. Compound sentences, used in Western Australia since 1995, are community based orders which comprise several components: curfew, supervision (probation), community work or a program condition. Prior to 2012–13, intensive supervision orders (both adult and juvenile), were coded to ‘community work’ and the ‘community based orders’ were coded to ‘probation’ (as per national standards).  In 2012–13, all components of compound sentences were provided to the ABS, making it possible to derive a Principal sentence from these. This change resulted in an increase in the principal sentence of community service orders and a decrease in probation orders. This has resulted in a higher proportion of community service orders in Western Australia compared to other states and territories.


In 2019–20, some fully suspended sentences in the Higher Court were incorrectly recorded as ‘custody in a correctional institution’. The 2020–21 release includes revised 2019–20 data that resolves this issue.

A review of finalisation methods in 2019–20, led to an increase in defendants finalised as ‘charges not proven n.e.c.’  (acquitted) where previously they were classified as ‘withdrawn’.

From 2019–20, offences of ‘Possess dangerous article in a public place’ are included in ‘Weapons/Explosives’, where they were previously coded to ‘Dangerous or negligent acts’.

Tasmanian Higher Courts sentence length and fine amount data became available in 2018–19. However, sentence length data for good behaviour bonds remain unavailable for the Higher Courts.

In December 2018, the Sentencing Act 1997, introduced new alternatives to suspended sentences such as Home Detention (included under ‘Custodial sentences’) and community correction orders (included under ‘Non-custodial sentences').

In 2017–18, the Tasmanian Police Prosecutions undertook a clearing of their case backlog. This resulted in a large increase in the number of defendants who had matter(s) referred to (and finalised in) the Magistrates’ Courts over the period, leading to an increase in cases acquitted or withdrawn.

During 2014–15 and 2015–16, a number of archival cases were closed in the Magistrates’ Court system, with these defendants finalised as ‘charges not proven, not elsewhere classified’. This resulted in increases in the method of finalisation of acquitted, and duration data.

Northern Territory

Unlike other states and territories, the date of initiation in Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts in the Northern Territory is based on the earliest of the date the case was filed, the date the case was created, or the date of first appearance.

In 2018–19, data quality improvements were made to better classify defendants who were previously categorised with a method of finalisation of ‘charges proven, not further defined’. This has resulted in increases in defendants with a method of finalisation of either ‘guilty finding by the court’ or ‘guilty plea by defendant’. Within the time series for defendants with a guilty outcome in the Northern Territory, data before 2018–19 should not be compared with data from subsequent years.

From 2018–19, payment of court costs/levies are categorised as a sentence type of ‘nominal penalty’, rather than ‘other monetary orders, not elsewhere classified’.

From March 2016, police in the Northern Territory issued on-the-spot fines for long-term unlicenced and unregistered drivers.  These were offences previously dealt with by the courts. This resulted in a decrease in defendants with a principal offence in ANZSOC Division 14 Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences in 2016–17. 

In 2012, magistrates started to hear minor matters ex parte (instead of issuing bench warrants) if the defendant did not appear for the court hearing. This resulted in an increase of guilty ex parte finalisations from 2011–12.

In 2011–12 and 2012–13, a joint project was undertaken between the Northern Territory Department of the Attorney-General and Justice and police to clear up historic outstanding warrants and summons matters. This resulted in increases in the number of finalisations, duration, cases withdrawn by the prosecution, and defendants with unknown Indigenous status during these time periods.

Australian Capital Territory

From 2019–20, an increased number of traffic offences have been ‘dismissed with no evidence to offer’ in the Magistrates’ Court, which lead to a notable increase in defendants acquitted.

In 2018–19, ACT Courts records were migrated to the Integrated Court Management System.  This improved the ability to incorporate external data, reducing the number of duplicated defendant records and consolidating related cases into one.  This is likely to have affected the number of finalised defendants.

For 2018–19 and 2019–20 an ongoing review into the coding of court fees and levies has resulted in a reduced number of defendants with a Principal Sentence of a ‘fine or other monetary order’ in line with the ABS coding requirements to exclude such fees.

In 2014–15, amendments were made to offence coding in order to improve comparability with the other states/territories. Most notably, driving offences that did not result in a fatality (previously coded to ANZSOC Group 0132 Driving causing death) were remapped to ANZSOC Group 0412 Dangerous or negligent operation of a vehicle.

Comparisons to other data

ABS crime and justice data

Some broad comparisons of data in this collection with other ABS crime and justice collections can be made e.g. basic demographics or overall trends in offence types. For example, courts data can be broadly compared with the number of court-initiated police proceedings (presented in Recorded Crime – Offenders, Australia). However, the data in the two collections are not strictly comparable because: 

Not all court-related actions initiated by police will proceed to a criminal court (e.g. charges may be changed by police during the course of an investigation)

Prosecutions in a criminal court may be initiated by authorities other than police

Time lags occur between the police initiations (to court) and the finalisation of the defendant's matter(s) in court

Report on Government Services

The Report on Government Services (RoGS) produced by the Productivity Commission, provides information on the performance of Australian state and territory government services, including courts. The RoGS report provides some information that is comparable to this collection, with both reports using the same national classifications and standards.

However, the focus of the two collections differs. The Courts chapter in the RoGS focuses on the efficiency and effectiveness of the administration of the courts, including workload indicators and financial information; whilst this publication focusses on the characteristics of finalised defendants (e.g. demographics, offences and sentences).

Both collections have the ‘finalised defendant’ as a counting unit, however the RoGS collection defines a defendant as ‘a person with one or more charges and with all charges having the same date of registration’, whereas the ABS collection defines a defendant as ‘a person or organisation against whom one or more criminal charges have been laid and which are heard together as one unit of work by a court at a particular level’. This difference means that the count of finalised defendants can be lower in the ABS collection when compared with RoGS

Both the RoGS and ABS data contain measures of court timeliness. The ABS presents a ‘duration’ measure (see ‘Duration’), while the RoGS reports the backlog in a court's workload, as a percentage of the pending caseload (at 30 June).

Family and domestic violence statistics

The data presented in this section are experimental, with further assessment required to ensure comparability and quality. Caution should be exercised when using the data and making comparisons across states and territories.

This release presents experimental statistics about defendants finalised between 1 July, 2020 and 30 June, 2021 in the Higher, Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts for at least one Family and Domestic Violence (FDV) offence (see ‘Definition’).

Additional data are also included relating to defendants who were finalised for an offence of ‘FDV-related breach of violence order’.


There is no single nationally or internationally agreed definition of ‘family and domestic violence’, and the terminology used to refer to ‘FDV behaviours’ varies across policy, legislative, service provision, and research contexts. Further, understandings of FDV continue to evolve, including the behaviours and/or relationship types that are considered to be familial or domestic in nature.

FDV can include a wide range of violent and non-violent abusive behaviours or threats, such as:

  • Physical and sexual violence or abuse
  • Emotional and psychological abuse
  • Verbal abuse and intimidation
  • Economic abuse
  • Social deprivation and controlling behaviours
  • Damage of personal property
  • Abuse of power

The types of relationships involved in FDV can include (but are not limited to):

  • Intimate partner relationships
  • Other family and co-habitation relationships
  • Siblings
  • Children
  • Carer relationships
  • Cultural and kinship relationships
  • Foster care relationships
  • Blood relatives who do not co-habit

Differences in the state and territory legislation used to determine the types of behaviours and relationships that constitute a family and domestic violence offence should be considered when interpreting data in this publication (see ‘FDV data collection’).

For the purposes of this publication, FDV offences are limited to the following ANZSOC Division/Sub-division offences:

  • 01 Homicide and related offences (011 Murder, 012 Attempted murder and 013 Manslaughter and driving causing death)
  • 02 Acts intended to cause injury (021 Assault and 029 Other acts intended to cause injury)
  • 03 Sexual assault and related offences (031 Sexual assault and 032 Non-assaultive sexual offences)
  • 049 Other dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
  • 05 Abduction/harassment (051 Abduction and kidnapping, 052 Deprivation of liberty and 053 Harassment and threatening behaviour)
  • 121 Property damage
  • 1531 Breach of violence order

It should be noted that the differences in how FDV offences are identified, charged by police and dealt with in the courts system (described above) can impact on the offence data presented in this publication. For example, the way in which Breach of violence orders are charged and prosecuted by police can differ across states and territories, thereby resulting in issues of data comparability for the breach offences, as well as other associated offence data. 

FDV data collection

The FDV data published in this collection are based on information recorded in the state and territory court administrative systems. FDV offences are identified based on an indicator (or ‘flag’) that is recorded by either the police and/or courts, as follows:

In Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania, police officers flag FDV offences, following investigation/charging, on their crime recording systems. This is transferred through to courts administrative systems.

In New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania, FDV offences are identified based on FDV-specific legislation and are flagged either by police or when the matter is dealt with by the court. In New South Wales, the relevant legislation is the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 (NSW). In Queensland:

  • s47 (9) of the Justices Act 1886 (for charges lodged in the Magistrates’ Courts)
  • s564 (3A) of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (for indictments lodged in the Supreme and District Court)
  • Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012
  • s315A of the Criminal Code Act 1899

In the Australian Capital Territory, FDV offences are identified and flagged either by police (following investigation/charging), or where the court list hearing type is ‘Family Violence’ (FV).

Given these differences in how FDV offences are identified or defined, direct comparisons of the state/territory FDV data presented in this publication should not be made.

Further, the comparability of FDV data may vary across time periods – both within and across states and territories – due to a number of factors including:

  • Differences or changes in state/territory police/court operations and business rules
  • Differences in state/territory legislation with regard to the relationships and/or offences that are defined as FDV
  • Differences or changes in the reporting behaviour of victims
  • Limitations in the quality or availability of data recorded on police and courts administrative systems

FDV counting methodology

The principal counting unit for the experimental FDV statistics presented in this publication (as per the main suite of information) is the finalised defendant – a person for whom all charges in a case have been formally completed in one or more court levels during the reference period. Specifically, this refers to any defendant who has been finalised for at least one FDV-related offence during the reference period.

Where a defendant has had multiple FDV offences finalised on the same day during the reference period within the same court level, they will be counted once and assigned a principal FDV offence based on the method of finalisation and the National Offence Index (NOI).  This is consistent with the counting methodology for the broader defendant population.

The exception to this is the ’FDV-related breach of violence order offences’ section which counts all defendants with a breach, regardless of whether this was their most serious FDV offence.

Non-FDV offences (i.e. those that are not flagged) are excluded from the experimental statistics prior to the ranking of the most serious offence. As such, FDV principal offence data are not directly comparable with principal offence data presented elsewhere in this publication.

In line with ABS policy on data confidentiality, table cells containing small values have been randomly adjusted through perturbation. As such, the sum of the components will not necessarily give the same result as the published total in a particular table.

FDV-related breach of violence orders

The additional ‘FDV-related breach of violence order’ data is intended to inform the growing need for statistics relating to FDV in the national policy and service space. These data complement similar information included in the ABS Recorded Crime – Offenders, Australia collection.

In the Criminal Courts, Australia publication, FDV defendants are counted in the same manner as the general defendant population (see ‘Counting Methodology’). Using this methodology, the true measure of FDV-related breach offences is underestimated because these offences are often dealt with alongside other ‘more serious’ FDV-related offences (e.g. assault), which are usually the principal FDV offence for the defendant.

Unlike other parts of this release where only principal offence is reported, the FDV breach data includes all defendants who were finalised for at least one FDV-related breach of violence order, irrespective of any other offences for which they were also finalised at the same time. This presents a more complete picture of the number of FDV-related breach of violence order offences.

Users are advised against making state by state comparisons of FDV breaches data due to the variation in policing and court practices between different states and territories.

State or territory information related to FDV data

This section describes state and territory specific events or processes (e.g. recording practices or legislation changes) that may impact on the availability, and/or comparability of state and territory FDV data.

Note that this section relates only to issues specific to FDV. The notes relating to the collection as a whole are also applicable to FDV data.

New South Wales

In New South Wales, FDV offences can be identified either by the associated legislative reference, or when the courts make an ‘Offence to be recorded as a domestic violence offence’ order. The flagging of offences against Commonwealth legislation can only be made by the courts through such an order. While this process is open to the courts, these orders are (currently) rarely applied to Commonwealth offences, resulting in lower than expected levels of flagging for some offence types, particularly offences in ANZSOC Division 05 Abduction/harassment.

The methodology for identifying FDV-related murder and manslaughter offences was improved in 2018–19, so that FDV related defendants/offences could be identifiable by either the charge recorded by police on an FDV-related incident; or (for matters proceeded against by ex officio indictment) where the indictment or judgement indicates that there was a domestic relationship between the defendant and the victim.  FDV-related murder and manslaughter counts for the years prior to 2018–19 are likely to be understated.


In Victoria, when a defendant attends court from custody, their records are initiated manually in the court recording system. As such, the FDV flag – which is recorded in the police system and automatically transferred to the court system – is not applied to these defendants’ court records. This results in a lower level of FDV flagging for certain offence types, in particular ANZSOC Divisions 01 Homicide and related offences and 03 Sexual assault and related offences.

South Australia

South Australian experimental FDV data became available from 2019–20. Prior data is therefore unavailable for this state.

In 2020–21, it was identified that the process for transferring FDV indicators through the SA Police data management system to the court system was affected in instances where it was manually entered as a new case instead of using the Police Case Number, causing FDV cases to be understated.

Western Australia

Information relating to FDV offenders is recorded by Western Australia Police on two separate crime recording systems: the Information Management System and Briefcase. Only data from Briefcase transfers through to the criminal courts administrative systems. As such, statistics about FDV defendants for Western Australia may be understated.


Data about FDV defendants finalised in Tasmania's Higher Courts are available from 2017–18 onwards. Prior to this, data were not available due to system limitations.

Improvements during 2020–21 in the identification of family violence related offences in the Courts, has resulted in a notable increase in the number of defendants with a FDV-offence, in particular a breach of violence order.  All offences against the ‘Family Violence Act’ are now flagged as FDV-related.

Further information

Users should note that the FDV data contained in this publication are considered to be experimental and are subject to further evaluation. The ABS welcomes and appreciates feedback from users of these statistics on any aspect of the release. Please send written feedback to:

Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification

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Method of finalisation classification

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Sentence type classification

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