The statistics presents information on the characteristics of defendants dealt with by NSW criminal courts. This includes information on the offences, case outcomes and sentences associated with those defendants.
Finalised court appearances
• NSW criminal courts finalised charges against 126,500 defendants in 2020, a decrease of 11,725 (8.5%) from the previous year (138,225 in 2019). The significant decline is due to changes to court operations to protect the safety of court users during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The chart below shows the large drop in finalisations in Q2 2020. Court output rebounded in Q3 2020, but were insufficient to counter the overall decline in finalisations.
• Finalisations were lower in each jurisdiction in 2020. Finalised court appearances in the Local Court were down 8.1% or 10,360 matters, District Court finalisations fell 20.9% (down 989), Supreme Court finalisations fell 15.7% (down 16) and Children’s Court finalisations fell 6.0% (down 360).
• The offence type with the largest decline in the Local Court was Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences, down 17.3% from 39,807 in 2019 to 32,922 in 2020. This reduction is partly due to the drink and drug driving reform implemented in May 2019, which moved first-time low-level drink driving and drug-presence offences from court to an Infringement Notice process.
• COVID-19 measures introduced in the Local Court included postponement of defended hearings, sentencing matters likely to result in a custodial penalty and first listing of summary matters involving no bail considerations.
• COVID related changes in the higher courts included suspension of new jury trials, and specifically in the District Court, of new judge alone trials, sentencing hearings, arraignments and readiness hearings for defendants awaiting their court appearance in the community.
• Most of these measures were lifted by the end of June 2020.
The proportion of defendants’ bail refused at finalisation increased in the District Court (up from 29.1% in 2019 to 31.1% in 2020). Despite this the number of District Court defendants bail refused at finalisation was lower in 2020 than in 2019 due to the total decline in finalised matters.
The proportion of all proven offenders sentenced to imprisonment increased slightly between 2019 and 2020 from 9.7% to 10.0%. At the same time the number of custodial sentences was low due to the overall decline in the number of finalisations. In 2020:
• In the District Court, 70.8% of proven offenders were sentenced to imprisonment (up from 65.3% in 2019).
• In the Local Court, 8.6% of proven offenders were sentenced to imprisonment (up from 8.1% in 2019).
The higher imprisonment rate is likely due to recent reforms changing the case mix of matters being finalised. In the District Court, the Table offence reform (tranche 2) removed less complex drug offences from the case mix. While in the Local Court, the drink and drug driving reform removed less complex traffic matters.
As these less complex matters have lower rates of imprisonment compared to other matters heard in these jurisdictions, removing them increased the average imprisonment rate for the remaining matters.
The median time from committal to outcome for defendants finalised by trial in the District Court in 2020 was up by 4.7% to 378 days, whereas the median time from committal to outcome for defendants finalised by sentence fell by 20.1% to 163 days.
The median time taken to finalise defended criminal matters in the Local Court increased in 2020, up from 202 days in 2019 to 247 days. It appears likely that the COVID-related postponement of Local Court matters contributed to the observed increase in time to justice in that jurisdiction.
Every six months BOCSAR releases updated Criminal Court statistics. The latest file shows the characteristics of NSW Criminal Court finalisations over five years to December 2020, across a large range of variables including: court outcomes, bail/remand status, offence demographics, sentencing patterns, court delay and District Court appeals.