Federal Defendants, Australia

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Statistics about defendants with federal offences dealt with by criminal courts including demographic, offence, outcome and sentence information.

Reference period
2022-23 financial year

Key statistics

  • 9,232 federal defendants finalised in 2022–23, up 14% 
  • Harassment and threatening behaviour remained the most common principal federal offence (58%)
  • Most judgements resulted in a guilty outcome (94%)
  • One-third of those with a guilty outcome received a fine (33%)
  • 17% were sentenced to custody in a correctional institution 

Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in restrictions that affected the volume of defendants finalised in the Criminal Courts, and this should be considered when comparing the data for 2022–23 to earlier years.  In addition, courts continued to resolve backlogs created or compounded by such restrictions which caused case finalisations to be delayed.

Federal Defendants in Australian Courts

This publication presents data related to defendants charged with an offence against Commonwealth (federal) legislation, who were finalised in an Australian criminal court in 2022–23. The data is a subset of the Criminal Courts, Australia collection.

The counting unit is a finalised defendant (see Glossary), excluding transfer between court levels.

There were 9,232 federal defendants finalised in 2022–23, an increase of 14% (1,140) from the previous year. This represented 2% of total defendants finalised (533,971) in Australia’s state and territory criminal courts over the same period, as reported in Criminal Courts, Australia, 2022–23. 

The median age of federal defendants was 38 years, and males accounted for more than three-quarters (79%).

Summary characteristics of federal defendants
 Defendants (no.)Defendants (%)
Median age (years)37.5 
Court Level (a)  
Higher Courts9329
Magistrates Courts8,87788
Children's Courts3023
Top 4 Principal Federal Offences (b)  
Harassment and threatening behaviour5,31458
Offences against government operations6117
Obtain benefit by deception4965
Non-assaultive sexual offences4805
Adjudicated finalisations  
Guilty Outcome6,63094
Top 4 Principal Sentences  
Good behaviour (incl. bonds)1,44722
Custody in correctional institution1,11117
Nominal and other penalties70911

a. Includes transfer to other court levels

b. Based on Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC). See Methodology for full classification.

Principal federal offence

In 2022–23, the most common principal federal offences were:

  • Harassment and threatening behaviour (58% or 5,314 defendants), such as nuisance phone calls or sending threatening messages
  • Offences against government operations (7% or 611 defendants), such as taxation offences
  • Obtain benefit by deception (5% or 496 defendants), such as identity fraud
  • Non-assaultive sexual offences (5% or 480 defendants), such as the possession or distribution of child abuse material or grooming offences

Harassment and threatening behaviour

Across the time series, the proportion of defendants of harassment and threatening behaviour has continued to increase, accounting for 17% of defendants in 2010–11 compared with 58% in 2022–23.

(a) excludes defendants finalised by transfer to other court levels

For defendants of harassment and threatening behaviour, in 2022–23:

  • 81% (4,320) were male
  • Most (5,300) were classified to the ‘communications’ federal offence group, indicating the offence occurred online or by phone
  • 94% (3,772) of judgements had a guilty outcome
  • 10% (376) with a guilty outcome were sentenced to custody in correctional institution and 30% (1,117) received an order of good behaviour

Court outcomes

Of the federal defendants whose charges resulted in a court judgement, most (94% or 6,630) had a guilty outcome. For these defendants:

  • A third (33%) received a fine as their principal sentence
  • 22% were sentenced to a good behaviour bond
  • 17% were sentenced to custody in a correctional institution

Across the time series, the proportion of defendants sentenced to a fine decreased from 41% in 2010–11 to 33% in 2022–23, and custody in a correctional institution increased over this time from 13% to 17%.

Data downloads

Guide to finding data in the federal defendants publication tables

Federal defendants, Australia (Tables 1 to 5)

Federal defendants, Federal Offence Group, Australia (Tables 6 to 10)



Defendants (persons or organisations) charged against Commonwealth legislation with a case finalised in criminal courts during the financial year 2022–23. Each case separately finalised is counted, excluding court level transfers (unless specified).


Data are available for states and territories, and Australia.


Administrative data supplied to the ABS by courts administration agencies or statistical agencies in each state and territory.

Collection method

Administrative data for all finalised criminal court federal defendants in the Higher (Supreme and District/County courts) Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts, are collected annually at the completion of each financial year. 

History of changes

  • An updated Sentence Type Classification was introduced for the first time in 2022–23. This has been applied at a broad level to earlier years (where possible), and any issues in consistency over time have been noted. 
View full methodology
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