Scope and coverage
The Federal Defendants, Australia, 2020–21 data relates to persons and organisations charged with an offence against Commonwealth legislation, whose case(s) have been finalised within the criminal jurisdictions of the Higher, Magistrates' or Children's courts between 1 July 2020 and 30 June 2021. This data covers federal defendant demographics, principal federal offence, sentencing and case duration.
Data on federal offenders in prison is included in Prisoners in Australia. Defendants whose cases relate only to offences under state or territory legislation are not in scope of this release, but are included in Criminal Courts, Australia.
Charges against Commonwealth legislation can be prosecuted by state and territory police agencies, the Australian Federal Police, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, state Directors of Public Prosecutions, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Australian Tax Office and other (generally Commonwealth) authorities.
For comparability purposes, federal offences based on national laws enacted under state and territory legislation are excluded from the scope of the Federal Defendants collection from 2016–17.
The Australian Road Rules (maintained by the National Transport Commission) only apply in each state and territory if they have been enacted by legislation. For example, in the Northern Territory, offences against the Australian Road Rules are identified as federal offences. However, to ensure consistency across all states and territories, the Australian Road Rules and the associated state and territory enacting legislation, are excluded from the scope of the Federal Defendants collection.
The geographic definition of Australia, as used by the ABS, includes 'Other Territories'. Federal 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 or Norfolk Island are not included.
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, with the exception of 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).
To ensure consistency between the states and territories, each one is required to provide data coded to national classifications and standards.
The principal 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 method of finalisation for each charge at case completion may be a guilty outcome, acquittal, withdrawal, transfer, or other outcome.
The Federal Defendants collection does not enumerate unique persons, instead the following counting 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
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.