Every six months BOCSAR releases updated Criminal Court statistics. The latest file shows the characteristics of NSW Criminal Court finalisations over five years to June 2021. Information is shared on: court outcomes, bail/remand status, offence demographics, sentencing patterns, court delay and District Court appeals.
Finalised court appearances
• NSW criminal courts finalised 140,644 court appearances in 2020/21, an increase of 20,394 (17%) from the previous year (120,250 in 2019/20). The increase reflects a return to more usual court throughput following a reduction in finalisation volumes in 2019/20. Changes to court operations in the first half of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to a dip in court finalisations in that year. Chart 1 below shows that 2020/21 finalisations were largely equivalent to the pre-COVID year of 2018/19.
• Recovery from COVID interruptions in the first half of 2020 has varied across jurisdictions. In the Local Court finalised court appearances increased 19%, from 110,271 in 2019/20 to 130,937 in 2020/21. The 2020/21 figure was 2% higher than the pre-COVID year of 2018/19 (128,627), indicating a strong recovery from the dip in the previous year.
• The operation of the higher courts continued to be constrained by social distancing requirements leading to fewer finalisations in those jurisdictions:
o District Court finalisations fell by 12% (down 518) between 2019/20 and 2020/21, from 4,186 to 3,668. This was in addition to the drop of 14% (down 691) seen between 2018/19 and 2019/20 (see chart 2 below).
o Supreme Court finalisations remained stable between 2019/20 and 2020/21 (both finalised 85 cases) but were still down 17% (or 17 cases) compared to the pre-COVID year of 2018/19 (102 cases finalised).
There was little change in the number of defendants receiving a custodial sentence between 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21 (around 12,000 per year). The proportion of proven offenders sentenced to imprisonment fluctuated during this same period, from 9.6% in 2018/19, to 10.7% in 2019/20 and 9.3% in 2020/21. This is largely due to changes in the number and composition of finalised cases (see chart 4 below):
• In 2019/20, following the initial COVID-19 interruption, many less-complex matters, unlikely to result in imprisonment, were postponed, thus increasing the proportion of custodial orders among the smaller number of all proven matters;
• In 2020/21, the court’s caseload returned to a more normal level and composition, comparatively decreasing the proportion of custodial orders among all proven matters compared to 2019/20.
The median time from arrest to finalisation for defendants finalised by trial in the District Court in 2020/21 increased by 19 days to 742 days, whereas the median time from arrest to finalisation for defendants finalised by sentence fell by 25 days to 456 days.
The median time taken to finalise defended hearings in the Local Court increased in 2020/21, up from 213 days in 2019/20 to 268 days. It appears likely that the COVID-related postponement of Local Court defended hearings contributed to the observed increase in time to justice in that jurisdiction.