Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research

The effect of judge-alone trials on criminal justice outcomes

Release Date: Monday 11 March 2024

Link to report summary - The effect of judge-alone trials on criminal justice outcomes

A new study by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) has found that judge-alone trials are more likely to result in an acquittal compared with jury trials.     

The study compared acquittal rates, imprisonment rates, prison sentences and trial length for 5,064 jury trials and 805 judge-alone trials finalised in the NSW Higher Courts between January 2011 and December 2019.   

The study found that, compared with jury trials, iudge-alone trials were associated with a 12 percentage point increase in the probability of an acquittal, even after controlling for characteristics that may affect the outcome. Judge-alone trials were also associated with shorter custodial penalties (down by an average of 7.6 months) and those judge-alone trials that involved prejudicial and complex offences were, on average, two days shorter.  

Executive Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Jackie Fitzgerald said that "Interviews with legal practitioners suggested the difference in acquittals could be because judges apply a higher threshold of what constitutes 'beyond reasonable doubt'. Judges must also provide detailed reasons for their verdict (which can be the basis for an appeal), whereas juries do not.  Another possibility is that factors which make a case more likely to be heard judge alone may also be associated with weaker prosecution cases."  

For trial length, interviewees unanimously believed that judge-alone trials were shorter, due to the increased use of written evidence rather than in-person testimony, flexible scheduling, and quicker presentations of evidence. 

Further enquiries:  Jackie Fitzgerald, Executive Director, 0423 139 687 
Email: bcsr@justice.nsw.gov.au
Copies of the report: www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au