Huge rise in use of custodial orders given by Magistrates Courts

March 2021

Please note: Our Sentencing Spotlights on offence and sentencing trends have been replaced with more recent data, now available on our interactive Sentencing Trends webpage. As such, the Spotlight featured in this media release is no longer available. The Council apologises for any inconvenience.

Media release

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Magistrates are increasingly using custodial sentences in Queensland courts, research from the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council has revealed.

Two new Sentencing Spotlights on offence and sentencing trends for Queensland’s higher courts and Magistrates Courts present statistical information about offences and penalties for adult offenders between 1 July 2005 and 30 June 2017.

While the use of custodial penalties in Magistrates Courts was steady from 2005–06 to 2009–10, it has since almost doubled from 10 per cent of all penalties in 2010–11, to 19 per cent in 2016–17.

The research forms part of the Council’s review of community based orders, imprisonment and parole options, for which the Attorney-General has provided a Terms of Reference.

Council Chair John Robertson said: “These Sentencing Spotlights provide a picture of sentencing outcomes and how these have changed over time, and help us to understand sentencing patterns, such as how judges and magistrates combine penalties to meet the diverse circumstances of the cases before them.

“This level of detail is important so we can provide evidence-based advice about the range of community based orders and parole options available to our courts as an alternative to imprisonment for addressing criminal offending while still meeting the purposes of sentencing.”

Traffic, driving and vehicle offences were the most common offences in the Magistrates Courts with more than 232,000 vehicle registration offences alone. A total of 177,032 offenders were sentenced for drink driving, although sentencing for this offence as a percentage of all offences dealt with in the Magistrates Courts decreased significantly over the reporting period (8.5% to 3.5%).

The two most serious offences most commonly sentenced in the higher courts — that is the District and Supreme courts — were acts intended to cause injury (23.7%) and drug offences (22.6%). In contrast, homicide and related offences accounted for 642 offences (0.3% of all offences) sentenced in the higher courts over the last 12 years. In the same reporting period for the higher courts, offences such as theft, unlawful entry and fraud dropped significantly.

The Sentencing Spotlights show Queensland courts sentenced more than 750,000 offenders, with the majority of offenders being sentenced in the Magistrates Courts (98.7%). Higher courts were more likely to use custodial penalties (76.8% of sentences) compared to Magistrates Courts (15.1%) which deal with less serious offences. Within the custodial penalty options, imprisonment was ordered most often while intensive correction orders used by sentencing judges the least often.