Scope of the classification
The primary purpose of the ASOC, is to provide a systematic ordering of the set of offences defined, either implicitly in the common law or explicitly in the legal codes of the Australian Commonwealth Government, and State and Territory governments. For the purposes of ASOC, an offence is defined as: any act or omission by a person, persons, organisation or organisations for which a penalty could be imposed by the Australian legal system.
The classification therefore covers all unlawful acts and ommissions included in the common law or statutes of all the Australian Commonwealth, State and Territory jurisdictions. In addition it is intended to include matters dealt with by any professional tribunals, military tribunals or traditional law forums in instances where these authorities are legally empowered to impose penalties that might otherwise be dealt with by the legal systems.
None of the definitions of categories are couched in strict legal terms, but the language used is quite specifically chosen to minimise any confusion as to the boundaries of each category. As a result the content of each category is uniform across all jurisdictions.
There are some matters that are specifically excluded from the ASOC that could, in certain instances, be considered to be of a criminal nature. These include some child welfare matters and some Court Orders such as Apprehended Violence Orders or Family Court Orders. However, breaches of these Court Orders are included.
Each of the classificatory approaches previously outlined offer particular advantages. However, it was felt that none of these approaches, taken in isolation, would have provided a sufficient basis for a conceptually sound and operationally useful classification. Accordingly an approach was adopted which reflected some aspects of all options. At the broadest level, the classification has distinctions based on the most fundamental elements of legal and behavioural criteria. These include:
- whether the offence involved the use of violence;
- whether the offence compromised the safety or well-being of persons or was primarily or solely directed at the acquisition or damage of property;
- whether the offence involved an intentional act or resulted from recklessness or negligence; and
- whether the offence had a specific victim, or constituted a breach of public order or other social codes.
In general, criteria based on seriousness and victim characteristics have been applied at the more detailed levels of the classification. For some offences, an attempt has been made to distinguish between the less serious and the more serious or 'aggravated' form of an offence.
Where aggravated offences have been so distinguished, it has been done by listing all circumstances regarded as aggravating in any jurisdiction. The effect of this method is that where one jurisdiction defines an offence as aggravated based on some feature of the offence, then offences of this type in all jurisdictions are classified as aggravated. It is possible that this could lead to distortions in any comparison between States and Territories of, for example, penalty information for these 'like' offences. In addition there could also be minor problems in classifying some offences accurately where the legislation in some jurisdictions does not treat a specific circumstance as aggravated.
Thus six criteria were used in the development of the classification. These are: Violence; Acquisition; Nature of Victim; Ancillary Offences; Seriousness, and Intent. These criteria are defined as follows:
Whether violence is involved. If violence is involved the nature of the violence is considered, including whether a weapon was used, whether abduction or deprivation of liberty was involved, whether the violence was sexual in nature and the outcome of the violence (e.g. whether life was taken, threatened or endangered).
Whether the intent of the offence is acquisitive. If so, the method of acquisition including theft, the use of extortion or blackmail, or the use of deception.
Nature of Victim
The nature and vulnerability of the victim or object offended against. Types of victims include persons, property, and the community.
Whether the offence depends for its existence on another offence. Such offences include attempts, threats and conspiracies to commit another offence, or offences involving the intent that another offence shall take place.
Seriousness can be reflected by whether or not the offence involved a personal victim or it can be measured as a function of factors of aggravation, such as whether the victim was vulnerable, whether the offence was committed in company, or whether a weapon was used.
Whether the offence occurs as the result of a negligent or reckless act, or as the result of an intent to commit an offence. This criterion distinguishes, for example, manslaughter from murder.
Certain constraints, though not classification criteria in a technical sense, were considered to be of particular importance in the development of the classification. They include:
- The categories should be consistent, as far as possible, with the various legal definitions and the criminal codes.
- The categories must be susceptible to reliable coding. That is, it must be possible to determine the category of the classification on the basis of the information typically reported in the range of data collection activities in which the classification is to be used.
- The impact of classification distinctions on counting rules must be acceptable.
- The classification should allow the provision of information to address important areas of social concern such as weapon violations and crime associated with drugs.
- The classification should exhibit statistical balance. That is, offences should be distributed relatively evenly across the classification rather than concentrated in a few particular categories.
In addition to the classification criteria and design constraints, certain other issues were considered.
Level of detail desired
If, for example, a purely legislatively based framework had been adopted, offences such as shoplifting would not be able to be distinguished from other forms of theft, leading to problems of interpretation. An alternative example would be including the prescribed levels of blood alcohol for driving offences, as the levels are not the same in every jurisdiction and may be changed from time to time. A balance between detail and comparability has therefore been struck.
Cross-classification with other data variables
Some offence information needs can be readily satisfied by cross-classifying offences with other variables. This approach avoids the need to add complex, detailed and potentially repetitive categories to the classification structure. Examples of cross-classification include a location classification (retail shop/bank etc.) with unlawful entry categories, a weapons classification (type of weapon used) with robbery and a relationship classification (husband/step-child etc.) with sexual assault.
Consistency with 1985 ANCO classification
It is recognised that the 1985 ANCO is currently widely used in criminal justice agency information systems, and that the implementation and acceptance of the ASOC would be partly dependent upon the degree of compatibility between the old and new classifications.
Application of the criteria
In applying the classification criteria the following approach has been adopted. At the broad level of the classification each division has been made relatively homogeneous in terms of the Violence and Acquisition criteria described above. This means that in general, a division does not include both offences where violence is involved and offences where violence is not involved. There are exceptions to this general rule, notably Division 13, which includes riot and affray together with non-violent offences such as censorship crimes and Division 06, which includes armed robbery together with demands made via a letter. This latter offence could be considered non-violent in nature. In both these situations it was considered that the overall intent of the divisions and the intuitive sense of the approach adopted overrode strict application of the criteria.
Similarly, divisions generally avoid mixing offences where the intent is acquisitive with offences where the primary intent is not acquisitive. The exception to this rule is in Division 06 where Blackmail/Extortion is grouped together with Robbery. The former offence may, in certain circumstances, be intended to cause the victim loss of something other than property, or to act in ways not necessarily resulting in an acquisitive gain on the part of the offender. Again, the strict application of the criteria would have created other problems.
Attempt, and aid and abet offences apply generally at the more detailed levels of the classification. Thus attempts are generally classified in the same subdivision as the offence which was being attempted, threatened or intended. Criminal intent offences together with most conspiracies, other than conspiracy to murder, are coded to Division 13 – Public Order Offences.
The Seriousness criterion has been applied at the subdivision and group levels of the classification, following the principle that, wherever possible, the more serious offences within a division should be able to be identified separately. No effort however has been made to make divisions and subdivisions homogenous in terms of seriousness, as this would be inconsistent with the application of other classification criteria. Similarly, no attempt has been made to rank divisions in the classification in order of seriousness. Wherever possible aggravated forms of particular offence types are separately identified, and aggravating factors are listed.
Divisions 01 to 06 of the classification structure were developed with the rationale that they have a common feature: namely, that they all involve offences committed against a person. That is:
- They all relate to culpable (i.e. intentional, negligent or reckless) acts which result in harm (i.e. physical injury/violation, or non-physical harm). These acts are not necessarily completed, they include attempts and conspiracies.
- These acts must affect a specific person as opposed to the general public. That is, the victim(s) can only ever be a distinct person or persons. Thus, the acts cannot be committed against organisations or the state or community.
The primary basis for distinguishing between Divisions 01 to 06 is the nature and degree of harm. The secondary basis of classification is whether the act was intentional or negligent.
For some offences in Divisions 03 and 04, the nature of the victim is also a factor, but only in cases of non-assaultive sexual offences against children and neglect of persons under care.
Divisions 06 to 09 inclusive and Division 12 are offences which generally relate to property and which, with the exception of Division 06, do not involve any offence against the person. Divisions 06 to 09 in particular have a secondary common feature in that they involve the obtaining of a benefit. These divisions are distinguished from one another by whether or not violence was involved, and by the method of acquisition. Thus, robbery is distinguished from theft, and theft distinguished from deception offences. Division 12, which contains property damage as opposed to its acquisition, also includes environmental pollution.
Divisions 10 and 11, and 13 to 16 inclusive are offences against organisations, government (local, State or Federal) and the community in general, rather than against particular individual persons.
The classificatory structure of some divisions, such as Divisions 10, 11 and 14, have been specified in a manner intended to reflect user requirements relating to policy and/or research issues concerning offences involving drugs, firearms and vehicles.