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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2009–10  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 04/06/2010   
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COURTS

A hierarchy of courts and tribunals operate within each State and Territory, with the High Court being the highest court in the Australian judicial system (diagram 13.12).

The majority of courts handle matters that are criminal or civil in nature, while tribunals provide a less costly alternative for progressing some civil and administrative matters outside the formality of a court. A criminal matter generally arises where a charge has been laid either by police or some other prosecuting authority on the basis of a breach of criminal law. A civil matter occurs where there is a dispute between two or more individuals or organisations, where one party seeks legal remedy for an injury or loss from the other party who is alleged to be liable.

The majority of less serious matters are heard before magistrates and more serious matters are heard before judges. For criminal matters the seriousness is often determined by the nature of the alleged offence. In a civil context, seriousness is generally determined according to the compensation being sought. A court or tribunal's ability to deal with a civil, criminal or other matter will depend on the state or territory's legislation or jurisdiction applicable to that particular level of court.

The hierarchy of courts also applies to appeal matters. Where grounds for appeal exist, the appeal process is available in both criminal and civil matters. Appeals resulting from civil tribunal decisions may be referred to the Magistrates', District/County, Supreme or Commonwealth Courts, depending on the jurisdiction and the rights of appeal. Criminal appeals resulting from the Magistrates' Court can be appealed at the District/County, Supreme or Commonwealth Court level in the first instance. The High Court of Australia is the highest court of appeal for both criminal and civil cases.


Criminal courts

A system of courts for the hearing of criminal matters exists in all Australian states and territories. Once charges are laid by police, the court will hear evidence by both prosecution and defence, and will make a decision as to whether or not the defendant is guilty. In cases where the defendant is found guilty, the court may also record a conviction and impose a penalty.

All states and territories have a Supreme Court that can deal with any criminal matter. The larger jurisdictions also have an intermediate level of court, known as the District or County Court, that deals with the majority of serious offences. The Supreme Courts and Intermediate Courts are collectively referred to as the Higher Courts. All defendants that are dealt with by the Higher Courts have an automatic entitlement to a trial before a judge and jury. In some jurisdictions, the defendant may elect to have the matter heard before a judge alone. Offences that must be heard before a judge and jury are known as indictable offences. These include offences such as murder, manslaughter and drug importation as well as serious sexual offences, robberies and assaults.

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. The majority of criminal cases are heard in these courts. Cases heard in Magistrates' Courts do not involve a jury, and a magistrate determines the guilt or innocence of the defendant. This is known as a summary proceeding. More serious offences are dealt with by the higher court levels.

Each state and territory also has a Children's Court to deal with offences alleged to have been committed by children or juveniles. In all states and territories children under 10 years of age cannot be charged with a criminal offence. The maximum age that defendants are considered to be a child or juvenile is under the age of 18 years at the time an offence was committed in all states and territories, except in Queensland. Defendants in Queensland are deemed an adult at 17 years of age or over at the time an offence was committed. In the main these courts deal with summary proceedings, however in some jurisdictions they have the power to also hear indictable matters.

13.12 HIERARCHY OF COURTS


A defendant proven guilty in a criminal matter is entitled to appeal against the conviction or against the severity of the penalty imposed. Under some circumstances, the prosecution is also entitled to appeal against the leniency of the penalty. The states and territories differ in the way in which they manage appeals. Some appeals from Magistrates' Courts may be heard before the Intermediate Courts. In other jurisdictions the Supreme Court may hear these appeals. In most jurisdictions an appeal court or Court of Criminal Appeal may be constituted to hear appeals from the Supreme or Intermediate Courts, with the highest court of appeal for all jurisdictions being the High Court of Australia.
National criminal courts statistics

The ABS Criminal Courts collection produces national statistics about defendants dealt with by the criminal jurisdictions of the Higher (Supreme and Intermediate), Magistrates' and Children's Courts of Australia for a financial year. The statistics provide a profile of the characteristics of finalised defendants, as well as data about the offences for which they have been charged, their guilt or innocence, and sentence outcomes for those proven guilty.


Criminal courts defendant summary characteristics

Diagram 13.13 presents summary characteristics of defendants dealt with by the Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Courts of Australia. 'Finalised defendant' refers to all charges against a person or organisation having been formally completed so that the defendant ceases to be an item of work to be dealt with by a particular court.

In 2007-08, there were a total of 675,765 defendants finalised in the Higher, Magistrates' and Children's Courts. The total comprised: 92% or 619,542 finalised defendants in the Magistrates' Courts; 6% or 39,412 defendants in the Children's Court's; and 2% or 16,811 defendants in the Higher Courts.

Of those defendants finalised in the Higher Courts, 85% (14,342 defendants) were adjudicated, meaning that the court made a determination of the defendant's guilt or innocence of the offence(s) with which they were charged. The remaining 15% (2,469 defendants) were finalised by non-adjudicated methods, in which there is no determination of the charges by the court. This includes outcomes such as all charges being withdrawn by the prosecution.

In the Magistrates' Courts, 91% (565,833 finalised defendants) were adjudicated, while 9% (53,691 defendants) were finalised by non-adjudicated methods.

In the Children's Courts, 81% (31,986 finalised defendants) were adjudicated and 19% (7,425 defendants) were finalised by non-adjudicated methods.

13.13 CRIMINAL COURT FINALISATIONS –2007–08

Higher Courts

Adjudicated defendants - principal offence

An adjudicated defendant is either a person or an organisation finalised via a guilty plea or a decision by the court as to their guilt or innocence of the final charges laid. Defendants can also be finalised by non-adjudicated methods such as transfer to other court levels or withdrawal by the prosecution.

In 2007-08, defendants were adjudicated in the Higher Courts for principal offences that fall within the following divisions of the Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC): acts intended to cause injury (23%); illicit drug offences (18%); sexual assault (15%); robbery/extortion (11%); and unlawful entry with intent (9%). Over three quarters of defendants adjudicated (76% or 10,861 defendants) by the Higher Courts had a principal offence in one of these five categories (table 13.14).

Nationally, 92% (13,204) of adjudicated defendants were found guilty or pleaded guilty in the Higher Courts, while 8% (1,141) were acquitted.

Defendants were most likely to be acquitted for the principal offences of sexual assault (24%) and homicide (18%).

All defendants charged with road traffic offences (100%) and almost all defendants charged with public order offences; unlawful entry with intent; illicit drugs and weapons and explosives offences (all 98%) were proven guilty (i.e. either a guilty plea or a guilty finding in the Higher Court during 2007-08 (table 13.14).

13.14 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN HIGHER COURTS, Principal offence - 2007-08

Proven guilty

Acquitted
Guilty finding by court
Guilty plea by defendant
Total(a)
Total adjudicated

Homicide and related offences
81
118
250
368
449
Acts intended to cause injury
250
315
2 696
3 026
3 276
Sexual assault and related offences
502
345
1 231
1 597
2 099
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
19
26
310
343
362
Abduction and related offences
9
17
87
107
116
Robbery, extortion and related offences
79
98
1 430
1 554
1 633
Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter
22
62
1 111
1 212
1 234
Theft and related offences
23
43
360
415
438
Deception and related offences
38
59
694
763
801
Illicit drug offences
56
167
2 363
2 559
2 615
Weapons and explosives offences
4
6
173
182
186
Property damage and environmental pollution
12
28
275
307
319
Public order offences
5
28
263
294
299
Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences
-
-
6
6
6
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
15
23
199
230
245
Miscellaneous offences
23
33
189
226
249
Total(b)
1 141
1 368
11 652
13 204
14 345

- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
(a) Includes defendants with charges proven, not further defined.
(b) Includes defendants for whom offence data are missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: ABS Criminal Courts, Australia (4513.0)


In the Higher Courts, the most prevalent principal offences for both male and female adjudicated defendants were acts intended to cause injury (23% of males and 22% of females), and illicit drugs (18% of males and 21% of females). Proportionally, more females were adjudicated for the principal offence of deception (17%) than were males (4%). In contrast, there were proportionally more males than females with a principal offence of sexual assault (16% and 2% respectively) (graph 13.15).

13.15 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN HIGHER COURTS, Selected principal offences(a)(b) by sex - 2007-08
Graph: 13.15 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN HIGHER COURTS, Selected^principal offences(a)(b) by sex—2007–08


Defendants proven guilty - principal sentence

Defendants proven guilty in the Higher Courts predominantly received custodial orders (i.e. custody in a correctional institution or the community or fully suspended sentences) (83%) (table 13.16).

Defendants proven guilty in the Higher Courts for homicide, robbery/extortion, and sexual assault offences incurred the highest proportion of custodial orders (98%, 91% and 88% respectively). Defendants proven guilty for road traffic and public order offences incurred the highest proportion of non-custodial sentences (43% and 39% respectively).

13.16 DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY IN HIGHER COURTS(a), Principal offence and sentence -2007-08

ASOC Division(c)
Custodial orders
Non-custodial orders
Total(b)

Homicide and related offences
360
8
368
Acts intended to cause injury
2 476
550
3 026
Sexual assault and related offences
1 398
199
1 597
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
275
68
343
Abduction and related offences
87
20
107
Robbery, extortion and related offences
1 418
136
1 554
Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter
991
220
1 211
Theft and related offences
289
126
415
Deception and related offences
639
124
763
Illicit drug offences
2 196
363
2 559
Weapons and explosives offences
150
31
181
Property damage and environmental pollution
213
94
307
Public order offences
179
115
294
Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences
4
3
7
Offences against justice procedures, government security and operations
173
57
230
Miscellaneous offences
144
82
226
All offence categories(d)
11 002
2 201
13 203

(a) Includes organisations and defendants with unknown age and/or sex.
(b) Includes defendants for whom a principal sentence is unknown.
(c) Classified according to Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) 1997.
(d) Includes defendants for whom offence data are missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: ABS Criminal Courts, Australia (4513.0)



Magistrates' Courts

Adjudicated defendants - principal offence

Road traffic offences accounted for the greatest proportion (45% or 256,963) of defendants adjudicated in the Magistrates' Courts in 2007-08. After road traffic offences, the largest proportion of defendants were charged with: public order offences (11%); dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons (9%); acts intended to cause injury (8%); offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations (6%) and illicit drug offences (5%).

Nationally, 96% (541,497) of adjudicated defendants were proven guilty in the Magistrates' Courts, while 4% (24,330) were acquitted.

Defendants adjudicated in the Magistrates' Courts were most likely to be acquitted for abduction (39%), homicide (37%) and sexual assault (20%) offences.

The principal offences with the highest proportion of defendants proven guilty in the Magistrates' Courts were illicit drug offences and dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons (both 99%) and weapons and explosive and deception offences (both 98%) (table 13.17).

13.17 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN MAGISTRATES' COURTS, Principal offence -2007-08

Acquitted
Proven guilty
Total adjudicated

Homicide and related offences
36
61
97
Acts intended to cause injury
4 123
39 063
43 186
Sexual assault and related offences
202
819
1 021
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
536
49 429
49 965
Abduction and related offences
13
20
33
Robbery, extortion and related offences
45
241
286
Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter
229
7 031
7 260
Theft and related offences
851
28 235
29 086
Deception and related offences
443
17 606
18 049
Illicit drug offences
302
29 146
29 448
Weapons and explosives offences
120
7 610
7 730
Property damage and environmental pollution
438
13 770
14 208
Public order offences
6 836
55 054
61 890
Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences
8 229
248 734
256 963
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
1 092
30 286
31 378
Miscellaneous offences
809
13 757
14 566
Total(a)
24 330
541 497
565 827

(a) Includes defendants for whom offence data are missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: ABS Criminal Courts, Australia (4513.0)


In the Magistrates' Courts, road traffic offences accounted for 44% of adjudicated male defendants and half (50%) of all female adjudicated defendants. Public order offences accounted for 12% of male and 8% of female adjudicated defendants, while dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons accounted for 9% of male and 7% of female adjudicated defendants.

Theft and deception offences both had higher proportions of female adjudicated defendants than male adjudicated defendants. Theft offences comprised 8% of female and 4% of male adjudicated defendants, while deception offences comprised 5% of female and 3% of male adjudicated defendants (graph 13.18).

13.18 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN MAGISTRATES' COURTS, Principal offences(a)(b) by sex - 2007-08
Graph: 13.18 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN MAGISTRATES' COURTS, Principal ^offences(a)(b) by sex—2007–08



Defendants proven guilty - principal sentence

In 2007-08, defendants proven guilty in the Magistrates' Courts predominantly received non-custodial orders (e.g. community supervision, monetary orders, good behaviour bonds) (91%). The exception was for robbery/extortion and unlawful entry with intent offences, where 66% and 51% of defendants proven guilty received custodial sentences respectively (table 13.19).

13.19 DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY IN MAGISTRATES' COURTS(a), Principal offence and sentence -2007-08

ASOC Division(c)
Custodial orders
Non-custodial orders
Total(b)

Homicide and related offences
21
40
61
Acts intended to cause injury
10 550
28 448
39 063
Sexual assault and related offences
343
461
820
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
3 134
46 277
49 429
Abduction and related offences
5
15
20
Robbery, extortion and related offences
159
76
241
Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter
3 573
3 441
7 031
Theft and related offences
4 590
23 597
28 235
Deception and related offences
3 213
14 367
17 606
Illicit drug offences
2 390
26 737
29 146
Weapons and explosives offences
1 028
6 574
7 610
Property damage and environmental pollution
1 006
12 738
13 770
Public order offences
1 068
53 927
55 054
Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences
10 531
237 890
248 734
Offences against justice procedures, government security and operations(d)
2 819
27 422
30 286
Miscellaneous offences
1 055
12 675
13 757
All offence categories(e)
45 657
495 148
541 498

(a) Includes organisations and defendants with unknown age and/or sex.
(b) Includes defendants for whom a principal sentence is unknown.
(c) Classified according to Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) 1997.
(d) For Queensland Magistrates' Courts, includes assault on police.
(e) Includes defendants for whom offence data are missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: ABS Criminal Courts, Australia (4513.0).



Children's Courts

Adjudicated defendants - principal offence

The main offences that defendants were adjudicated for in the Children's Courts during 2007-08 were: acts intended to cause injury (16%); theft (14%); unlawful entry with intent (12%); deception; and road traffic offences (both 11%).

Nationally, 96% (30,742) of adjudicated defendants were proven guilty in the Children's Courts and 4% (1,246) were acquitted.

Higher proportions of acquittals occurred for defendants charged with homicide (25%), sexual assault (11%) and acts intended to cause injury (7%).

The principal offences with the highest proportion of defendants proven guilty were for: dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons; deception; illicit drugs; weapons and explosives; and road traffic offences (all 98%) (table 13.20).

13.20 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN CHILDREN'S COURTS, Principal offence -2007-08

Acquitted
Proven guilty
Total adjudicated

Homicide and related offences
4
12
16
Acts intended to cause injury
333
4 659
4 992
Sexual assault and related offences
37
298
335
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
29
1 886
1 915
Abduction and related offences
-
11
11
Robbery, extortion and related offences
75
1 297
1 372
Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter
101
3 872
3 973
Theft and related offences
168
4 304
4 472
Deception and related offences
52
3 347
3 399
Illicit drug offences
10
631
641
Weapons and explosives offences
9
454
463
Property damage and environmental pollution
102
1 973
2 075
Public order offences
189
2 781
2 970
Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences
62
3 500
3 562
Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations
44
853
897
Miscellaneous offences
31
721
752
Total(a)
1 246
30 742
31 988

- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
(a) Includes defendants for whom offence data are missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: ABS Criminal Courts, Australia (4513.0).


There was variation for some offence types in the proportion of male and female defendants adjudicated in the Children's Courts. Adjudicated males had higher proportions than adjudicated females for the following offences: unlawful entry with intent (14% of males, 5% of females); property damage (7% of males, 4% of females); and dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons (6% of males, 4% of females).

Proportionally, there were more female defendants charged for the following offences than male defendants: deception (20% of females and 8% of males); acts intended to cause injury (19% of females, 15% of males); and theft (16% of females, 13% of males) (graph 13.21).

13.21 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN CHILDREN'S COURTS, Principal ^offences(a)(b) by sex - 2007-08
Graph: 13.21 DEFENDANTS ADJUDICATED IN CHILDREN'S COURTS, Principal ^offences(a)(b) by sex—2007–08


Defendants proven guilty - principal sentence

Defendants proven guilty in the Children's Courts predominantly received non-custodial orders (e.g. community supervision, monetary orders, good behaviour bonds) (91%), except for homicide (64% custodial) and abduction offences (50% custodial) (table 13.22).

13.22 DEFENDANTS PROVEN GUILTY IN CHILDREN'S COURTS(a) -2007-08

Sentence

Principal Offence(c)
Custodial orders
Non-custodial orders
Total(b)

Homicide and related offences
7
4
11
Acts intended to cause injury
787
3 866
4 659
Sexual assault and related offences
87
208
299
Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons
39
1 845
1 884
Abduction and related offences
5
5
10
Robbery, extortion and related offences
432
860
1 295
Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter
701
3 170
3 871
Theft and related offences
258
4 040
4 304
Deception and related offences
24
3 317
3 347
Illicit drug offences
32
597
632
Weapons and explosives offences
44
409
453
Property damage and environmental pollution
104
1 866
1 970
Public order offences
26
2 750
2 780
Road traffic and motor vehicle regulatory offences
22
3 473
3 500
Offences against justice procedures, government security and operations
20
831
854
Miscellaneous offences
28
691
719
All offence categories(d)
2 616
28 074
30 730

(a) Includes organisations and defendants with unknown age and/or sex.
(b) Includes defendants for whom a principal sentence is unknown.
(c) Classified according to Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) 1997.
(d) Includes defendants for whom offence data are missing or a principal offence could not be determined.
Source: ABS Criminal Courts, Australia (4513.0).







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