SACStat Methodology

Refer also to our Glossary, How to Use SACStat page and Instruction Manual.

Sentencing Advisory Council Statistics Online (SACStat) presents data on sentences imposed on offenders by the Magistrates' Court, County Court and Supreme Court of Victoria. Data is grouped according to the type of offence offenders have been sentenced for and is presented in aggregate form on the type and length of sentences imposed. Sentencing outcomes are also presented according to the age and gender of the offender.

Jump to Methodology for Magistrates' Courts Data

Methodology for Higher Courts Data

Scope

SACStat contains data on criminal offences sentenced in the County Court of Victoria and the Supreme Court of Victoria (the higher courts).  

Exclusions

The higher courts data excludes:

  • custodial and non-custodial supervision orders and unconditional release imposed under the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act 1997 (Vic) pt 5 s 23, where the accused is not guilty because of mental impairment
  • criminal offences sentenced in the Magistrates' Court of Victoria and the Children's Court of Victoria
  • sentences imposed in the higher courts for breach of a sentence
  • changes to higher court convictions or sentences made by the Court of Appeal that were not published by 31 December 2016 (six months after the end of the reference period)
  • sentences imposed in the County Court as a result of a successful appeal against a sentence imposed in the Magistrates' Court
  • offences where the total number of charges across the five-year reference period is fewer than 10.

Reference Period

Higher courts data incorporates criminal cases with proven charges finalised in the higher courts over the five financial years to June 2016.

Data Source

Higher courts data is obtained from Court Services Victoria's sentencing database. Data on appeal decisions is provided by the Court of Appeal and is also collected from the Australasian Legal Information Institute.

Sentence Appeals

Changes made by the Court of Appeal to higher court convictions or sentences that are published by 31 December 2016 (six months after the end of the reference period) are incorporated into the SACStat higher courts data.

Data Revision

While every effort is made to ensure that the data is accurate and complete, irregularities may occur, and the data is therefore subject to revision.

Any major revisions to the data are documented on this page.

2016 Data Update

Original sentencing data was revised to take into account appeals determined and published during the reference period (July 2010 to June 2015). 

2017 Data Update

The collection period for appeals data was extended to six months beyond the reference period (July 2011 to June 2016). Data on sentencing outcomes has therefore been amended to account for appeals that were determined as at 31 December 2016.

A new 'offence summary' feature has been incorporated into SACStat for a selection of offences sentenced in the higher courts. The feature allows users to download a written summary containing key sentencing statistics for an offence as well as the offence’s definition and maximum penalty. The summaries are available for 28 offences including murder, rape, aggravated burglary and trafficking in a commercial quantity of a drug of dependence.

Percentiles for sentence length and fine amounts are no longer presented. Previous versions of SACStat included the 10th, 25th, 75th and 90th percentiles in the summary statistics beneath each graph relating to sentence length and fine amount. However, during testing for the 2017 data update, a problem was identified with percentiles calculated from data with fewer than 10 metric values, which was due to the presence of non-metric values (such as life sentences, no non-parole periods and aggregate sentences relating to a charge). Although this scenario arose infrequently, the Council has decided for the 2017 data update to exclude percentiles relating to all sentence length and fine amount data. Other Summary Statistics, including the median, minimum and maximum, are not affected and therefore have been retained in the 2017 data update.

Counting Methodology

A charge is a single count of an offence for which an offender is sentenced. A case is a collection of one or more charges sentenced at the same hearing.

Higher courts data uses two counting methods for offences: all offences and principal offences.

The all offences counting rule gives one count for each charge in a case, regardless of the number of charges within a case. The offence and sentence associated with each charge are included in the overall counts of offences and sentences.

The principal offence counting rule gives one count to only one charge within a case: the charge that is the principal offence. The principal offence is the offence that received the most severe sentence within a case. In cases where charges of different offences have the same sentence, the principal offence is the charge with the most serious offence according to the National Offence Index.

Counting a case only once under the principal offence allows meaningful analysis of case-level data in relation to offences. Such data includes the total effective sentence imposed on a case. Further, by avoiding double-counting of cases within an offence type, it also allows for meaningful offender-based analysis, such as gender or age comparisons within an offence.

Offence

The classification of offences is the basis for all higher courts data on SACStat. Offences are grouped together based on a combination of the Act, statutory reference and charge description in the original data.

The Sentencing Advisory Council conducts a regular quality assurance exercise for four categories of offences:

  • sexual penetration with a child
  • incest
  • trafficking in a drug of dependence
  • cultivation of a drug of dependence.

The specific offences within these categories are not always recorded in the original sentencing data.

To verify offences in these four categories, the offence description for each charge in the sentencing database is checked against the offence description in the sentencing remarks, with the assumption that the sentencing remarks are more reliable than the sentencing database. Where a discrepancy between the two sources is found, the information provided in the remarks is used. At the time of publication, sentencing remarks were unavailable for a small number of cases. Where the precise offence could not be verified, the offence stated in the sentencing database is used for incest and drug trafficking and drug cultivation offences. However, for the offence category of sexual penetration with a child under 16, unverified charges are categorised into a generic category, 'sexual penetration with a child under 16 (not further defined)'. A slight undercount is likely for the offences of sexual penetration with a child aged 10/12 to 16, sexual penetration with a child aged under 10/12 and sexual penetration with a child aged 10/12 to 16 and under the care, supervision or authority of the offender.

Sentence Type

'Sentence type' provides a framework for classifying sentences for statistical purposes, enabling data to be compiled consistently and meaningfully across offences. SACStat gives the same sentence types as in the underlying data, with two exceptions: adjourned undertakings, dismissals and discharges are grouped into a single category, and a number of infrequently used sentence types are grouped under the 'other' sentence type.

The higher courts data has the following sentence types:

  • imprisonment
  • partially suspended sentence (includes partially suspended sentence with recognizance release order (Cth))
  • wholly suspended sentence (includes wholly suspended sentence with recognizance release order (Cth))
  • youth justice centre order
  • community correction order
  • intensive correction order
  • community-based order
  • fine
  • adjourned undertaking/discharge/dismissal
  • other.

'Other' comprises the following sentence types:

  • good behaviour bond
  • hospital security order
  • court secure treatment order
  • probation
  • recognizance release order (Cth)
  • residential treatment order
  • restricted involuntary treatment order (hospital order)
  • youth supervision order.

Sentence Type Counting Methodology for Charges

Courts may impose multiple sentence types, known as a mixed sentence, on a charge. Only the most severe sentence type for the charge is counted in SACStat (for example, if a charge receives imprisonment and a fine, only imprisonment is counted).

Courts may impose aggregate sentences on charges within a case. Aggregate sentences are included for the relevant sentence type category (for example, aggregate fines are included in the count of fines).

Sentence Length and Fine Amount

SACStat uses a number of measures of sentence length and fine amount. These measures vary for sentence types across cases and charges. The following measures of sentence length are used for cases sentenced in the higher courts:

  • imprisonment – total effective sentence length in years and non-parole period in years
  • partially suspended sentence – part to serve in years
  • wholly suspended sentence – total effective sentence length in years
  • youth justice centre order – total effective sentence length in years
  • community correction order – total effective sentence length in years
  • intensive correction order – total effective sentence length in years
  • community-based order – total effective sentence length in years
  • fine – amount in dollars.

Length in years is the measure used for all sentence types on charges, with the exception of fines.  Fines imposed on charges are measured by the amount in dollars.

Aggregate sentences are excluded for charge-level sentence lengths and fine amounts, as these sentences apply to more than one charge.

Presentation of Sentence Length

Higher courts sentence lengths are summarised in two ways:

  • sentence lengths are given in groups of one year (e.g. '0 < 1 yrs', '1 < 2 yrs', '2 < 3 yrs', '3 < 4 yrs', '4 < 5 yrs' etc.). The number of cases or charges that have a particular sentence length is given as a percentage of cases or charges that received that sentence type. Life sentences and no non-parole periods are included in these graphs.
  • summary statistics give sentence lengths for cases or charges using common statistical measures: the minimum, median  and maximum. 'Non-metric' sentence lengths, such as life sentences, no non-parole periods and unascertainable sentences, are excluded from summary statistics. Previous versions of SACStat presented the 10th, 25th, 75th and 90th percentiles. Percentiles were excluded from the 2017 Data Update due to problems found in the method of calculation.

Tile graphs are used to present combinations of total effective sentences and non-parole periods for cases that receive imprisonment (under 'Imprisonment by Non-Parole Period'). The size of each tile on the grid reflects the percentage of cases that has the particular combination of total effective sentence length and non-parole period. Larger tiles indicate greater percentages.

Age of the Offender

The age of the offender in years is grouped into six categories:

  • Age < 20
  • Age 20–24
  • Age 25–34
  • Age 35–44
  • Age 45–54
  • Age 55+.

Two additional categories are used for case and charge information under 'Case Profile':

  • company (a business or undertaking that has legal personality separate from its members)
  • not stated.

Gender of the Offender

The gender of the offender is grouped into three categories: male, female and company.

Methodology for Magistrates' Court Data

Scope

SACStat contains data on criminal offences sentenced in the Magistrates' Court of Victoria.

Exclusions

The Magistrates' Court data excludes:

  • criminal offences sentenced in the Children's Court, the County Court and the Supreme Court of Victoria
  • sentences imposed in the Magistrates' Court for breach of a sentence
  • changes to Magistrates' Court sentences as a result of successful appeals to the County Court
  • local law offences
  • Commonwealth offences
  • offences in cases sentenced in the Magistrates' Court where the principal offence is a Commonwealth offence
  • cases where the person successfully completes a criminal justice diversion program
  • offences where the total number of charges across the three-year reference period is fewer than 40.

Reference Period

Magistrates' Court data comprises criminal cases with proven charges sentenced in the Magistrates' Court over the three financial years to 30 June 2016.

Data Source

Court Services Victoria regularly provides extracts of data from the Magistrates' Court administrative system to the Sentencing Advisory Council. To achieve the final figures displayed in SACStat, the Sentencing Advisory Council cleans and aggregates the raw data.

Data Revision

While every effort is made to ensure that the data is accurate and complete, irregularities may occur, and the data is therefore subject to revision.

Any significant revisions to the methodology used for preparing the data are documented on this page.

2016 Data Update

In the original data provided to the Council, a small number of cases had longer non-parole periods than total effective imprisonment terms. The anomaly in the data occurred because some non-parole periods relate to multiple cases while total effective terms only relate to single cases. This data was included in some prior versions of SACStat. To address this anomaly, the Council has amended all non-parole periods to no non-parole period if the non-parole period is longer than the total effective imprisonment term.

In the earliest versions of SACStat, offences heard in the Magistrates' Court were excluded if they belonged to cases in which the principal offence was either a Commonwealth offence or among certain offences with a very low number of charges. The second reason for excluding offences was subsequently considered unnecessary. Thus, since the 2014 version of SACStat, offences have been included if they belong to cases where the principal offence is among certain offences with very low numbers of charges. Offences continue to be excluded if the principal offence in the case is a Commonwealth offence.

Counting Methodology

A charge is a single count of an offence for which an offender is sentenced. A case is a collection of one or more charges sentenced at the same hearing.

In SACStat, Magistrates' Court data uses two counting rules for offences: all offences and all cases.

The all offences counting rule gives one count for each charge in a case, regardless of the number of charges within a case. The offence and sentence associated with each charge are included in the aggregate data for the relevant offence.

The all cases counting rule gives one count for each offence within a case, regardless of the number of charges of the offence or the number of offences. Consequently, a case with multiple charges of only one offence type is counted once in the aggregate data for the relevant offence type. A case with charges of multiple offence types is counted once in the aggregate data for each relevant offence.

Counting a case once under each offence within a case provides a complete picture of the number of cases that includes a particular offence. Further, avoiding double-counting of cases within an offence type also allows for meaningful analysis of offender characteristics, such as gender or age comparisons within an offence.

Charge-Level Data

The Magistrates' Court statistics for charges of an offence incorporates:

  • the number of charges
  • the most severe sentence type imposed on each charge
  • the sentence length or fine amount for the most severe sentence type imposed on each charge
  • whether the sentence is an aggregate sentence.

Data on sentence lengths and fine amounts for charges incorporates aggregate and non-aggregate sentences. The sentence length and fine amount for aggregate sentences relate to all charges within a case, as opposed to an individual sentence length or fine amount for an individual charge in non-aggregate sentences.

Case-Level Data

The Magistrates' Court data for each offence in a case are:

  • the number of cases that have at least one charge of the offence
  • the age and gender of the offender for each case
  • the sentence type
  • the total effective sentence length, including the non-parole period, for sentences of imprisonment.

Where multiple charges have been sentenced with different sentence types within a case, the sentence type for the case is determined by the most serious sentence according to the sentencing hierarchy. As the most serious sentence within the case is based on all charges, the sentence type may be of a higher level for the case than for the charge. For example, if a case includes charges of causing injury intentionally, unlawful assault and possess a drug of addiction but only the charge of causing injury intentionally received a term of imprisonment, imprisonment would still be counted as the sentence type for the case for unlawful assault and possess a drug of addiction, even though neither charge received imprisonment.

Sentence lengths for cases are given for imprisonment and partially suspended sentences only. The reason for this is that data on sentence lengths for the other sentence types is not available. The total effective sentence and the non-parole period are provided for imprisonment sentences while the total effective sentence and part to serve are provided for partially suspended sentences. Imprisonment sentences without a non-parole period are indicated under 'Non-Parole Period (Cases)'.

Reliability of Case-Level Sentencing Outcomes

Data on case-level sentencing outcomes in the Magistrates' Court needs to be treated with caution for some offences. Because the total effective sentence is presented for each offence type within a case, the offence of interest may not have contributed substantially, or at all, to the total effective sentence. For example, if a case comprising one charge of aggravated burglary receives 2 years' imprisonment and one charge of public nuisance receives a fine resulting in a total effective sentence of 2 years' imprisonment, the case (and its accompanying total effective sentence) is counted under public nuisance as well as aggravated burglary, even though the public nuisance offence did not contribute to the total effective sentence. Charge-level sentence data is generally more reliable than case-level sentence data in providing an accurate picture of sentencing outcomes for a particular offence.

Offence

The classification of offences is the basis for all Magistrates' Court data on SACStat. Offences are grouped together based on a combination of the Act, statutory reference and charge description in the original data provided to the Sentencing Advisory Council.

Changes are made to the charge descriptions in the original data under two scenarios:

  • where a charge description is not readily apparent due to abbreviation. For example, the offence description of 'own-non dang dog attack/bite psn-ser inj' under section 29(4) of the Domestic Animals Act 1994 (Vic) is amended to 'non dangerous dog attacks or bites person causing serious injury – owner'.
  • where there is a lack of consistency in the level of detail in charge descriptions. For example, under section 22(1) of the Crimes (Family Violence) Act 1987 (Vic), it is an offence to contravene an 'intervention order' or an 'interim intervention order'. Data for this offence contains three charge descriptions: 'contra-fam violence final intervent ordr', 'contra- fam violence interim intervent ordr', and the higher level description of 'contra-fam violence intervent ordr'. As it is not possible to determine whether charges involve an interim or final order from the higher level description, 'contravene family violence intervention order' is used for all three charges.

Sentence Type

'Sentence type' provides a framework for classifying sentences for statistical purposes, enabling data to be compiled consistently and meaningfully across offences. Sentence type data on SACStat gives the same sentence types as in the underlying data, with two exceptions: adjourned undertakings, dismissals and discharges are grouped into a single category and a number of infrequently used sentence types are grouped under the 'other' sentence type.

The Magistrates' Court data has the following sentence types:

  • imprisonment
  • partially suspended sentence
  • wholly suspended sentence
  • youth justice centre order
  • community correction order
  • community-based order
  • fine
  • adjourned undertaking/discharge/dismissal
  • other.

'Other' comprises the following sentence types:

  • drug treatment order.

Sentence Type Counting Methodology for Charges

Courts may impose multiple sentence types, known as a mixed sentence, on a charge. Only the most severe sentence type is counted for the charge on SACStat (for example, if a charge receives imprisonment and a fine, only imprisonment is counted).

Courts may impose aggregate sentences on charges within a case. Aggregate sentences are included for the relevant sentence type (for example, aggregate fines are included in the count of fines).

Sentence Length and Fine Amount

SACStat uses a number of measures of sentence length and fine amount. These measures vary for sentence types across cases and charges. The following measures of sentence length are used for Magistrates' Court cases:

  • imprisonment – total effective sentence length in months and non-parole period in months
  • partially suspended sentence – total effective sentence length in months
  • wholly suspended sentence – total effective sentence length in months.

Charges are split into whether a sentence is an aggregate or a non-aggregate sentence. With this distinction, length in months is the measure used for all sentence types for charges, with the exception of fines.  Fines imposed on charges are measured by the amount in dollars.

Aggregate sentences are presented separately from non-aggregate sentences for charge-level sentence lengths, as aggregate sentences apply to more than one charge.

Presentation of Sentence Lengths

Sentence lengths are grouped into periods of 3, 6 and 12 months (e.g. '< 3 mths', '3 < 6 mths', '6 < 12 mths', '12 < 18 mths', '18 < 24 mths', '24 < 36 mths', '36+ mths'). The number of cases or charges that have a particular sentence length is given as a percentage of cases or charges that received the sentence type. Cases where the offender received no non-parole period are included in these graphs (given as 'No non-parole period').

Age of the Offender

The age of the offender in years is grouped into six categories:

  • Age 18–19
  • Age 20–24
  • Age 25–34
  • Age 35–44
  • Age 45–54
  • Age 55+.

The age of the offender is not given where the offender is a company.

The age of the offender is not indicated in the original data extract for a very small percentage of cases. Consequently, the sum of the totals for each age group does not necessarily equal the total number of cases for some offences.

Gender of the Offender

The gender of the offender is grouped into male or female.

The gender of the offender is not given where the offender is a company.

The gender of the offender is not indicated in the original data extract for a very small percentage of cases. Consequently, the sum of the totals for each gender group does not necessarily equal the total number of cases for some offences.

Last update 1 August 2017 © Sentencing Advisory Council, State of Victoria, 2017

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