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Federal Defendants, Australia

Statistics about the number of defendants with federal offences dealt with by the Higher, Magistrates' and Children's criminal courts

Reference period
2017-18
Released
16/05/2019

Key findings

There were 12,404 federal defendants finalised in 2017–18, a decrease of 7% (1,000) from the previous year. (Table 1)

Federal defendants accounted for 2% of total defendants finalised (592,455), as reported in Criminal Courts, Australia, 2017–18 (cat. no. 4513.0).

Summary characteristics relating to federal defendants finalised are presented below.

Federal defendants finalised, summary characteristics, 2017-18

Demographics% (no.)
Males
75% (9,256)
Females21% (2,602)
Median age38 Years
Court level
Magistrates'
90% (11,190)
Higher8% (952)
Children's2% (261)
Top 3 Offences – ANZSOC(a)
Harassment and threatening behaviour
33% (4,043)
Offences against government operations, n.e.c.20% (2,481)
Obtain benefit by deception10% (1,181)
Method of finalisation
Proven guilty
69% (8,542)
Withdrawn by prosecution22% (2,693)
Transfer(b)7% (813)
Acquitted3% (331)
Sentence type
Fines
47% (3,998)
Other non-custodial orders(c)25% (2,129)
Custody in a correctional institution12% (1,007)
a. Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC) (cat.no. 1234.0). Refer Appendix 1 and Explanatory Notes 18–19.
b. To other court levels.
c. Includes good behaviour bond/recognisance orders, licence disqualification/suspension/amendment, forfeiture of property order, nominal penalty and other non-custodial orders n.e.c.
 

​​​​​​​Harassment and threatening behaviour continues to be most common offence

The most common federal offence type in 2017–18 was Harassment and threatening behaviour (33%, 4,043 defendants). These offences have more than doubled since 2010–11, and have been the most common federal offence type for the last three years. (Table 1)

During 2017–18, the majority of defendants with this principal federal offence were classified to the Federal Offence Group ‘Communications’¹, indicating that the offending behaviour occurred via carriage services such as telecommunications devices or the Internet.

Harassment and threatening behaviour, summary characteristics, 2017-18

Summary counts
Finalised
4,043
Proven Guilty68% (2,748)
Movement from 2016–17up 2% (94)
Movement from 2010–11up 132% (2,300)
Sex
Male
83% (3,359)
Female17% (678)
Sentence Type
Custodial orders
17% (473)
Non-custodial orders83% (2,279)

Federal defendants most commonly received a monetary order

Over half of the 8,542 federal defendants proven guilty in 2017–18 received a monetary order (51%, 4,340). Of these, over three in five had a principal federal offence of either:

  • Offences against government operations n.e.c. (44%, 1,915) – these were mostly fines issued for taxation offences; or
  • Harassment and threatening behaviour (19%, 807).


A sentence of custody in a correctional institution was received by 12% (1,007) of federal defendants proven guilty. Almost half of these had a principal federal offence of either:

  • Harassment and threatening behaviour (32%, 326); or
  • Import or export illicit drugs (17%, 170). (Table 4)
     
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  1. Includes good behaviour bond/recognisance orders, licence disqualification/suspension/amendment, forfeiture of property order, nominal penalty and other non-custodial orders n.e.c.
     

​​​​​​​States and territories

There were decreases in the number of federal defendants finalised in all states and territories in 2017–18, except in the Australian Capital Territory where defendants increased 37% (290). (Table 3)

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The increase in the Australian Capital Territory was driven by Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences (up 50%, 274), primarily due to an increase in parking offences at the Australian National University.

The largest percentage decreases in the number of defendants finalised occurred in:

  • the Northern Territory (37%, 96), mostly due to Miscellaneous offences relating to the Federal Offence Group ‘Environmental’¹; and
  • Western Australia (26%, 344), largely due to a decrease in Offences against government operations n.e.c. and the Federal Offence Group ‘Justice’¹.


Fines were the most common principal federal sentence type across all states and territories, ranging from 35% (39) of federal defendants proven guilty in Tasmania, to 79% in Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory (647 and 354 respectively). (Table 3)

In Western Australia, the majority of defendants sentenced to a fine were for taxation offences, and in the Australian Capital Territory the majority were for parking offences.

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Footnotes

  1. Offence data in this publication are presented based on ANZSOC, and also by ‘Federal Offence Group’. Refer Appendix 4 and Explanatory Notes 24–26 in the Methodology.

Data downloads

Federal defendants, Australia (Tables 1 to 4)

Federal defendants, Federal Offence Group, Australia (Tables 5 to 7)

Guide to finding data in the federal defendants publication tables