In March 2015 Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR) released a study after reviewing NSW Higher and Local Court outcomes to determine whether they have become more lenient across a range of offence categories.
The results were that NSW criminal courts:
Have become more restrictive in the granting of bail;
Have increased their use of imprisonment for convicted offenders; and
Have lengthened average prison sentences across many offence types in the past two decades.
The research was undertaken due to previous research by BOSCAR that had shown that the NSW public generally underestimate the severity of sentences imposed by NSW courts on convicted offenders. The same research also suggests that the perception of leniency in sentencing undermines public confidence in the administration of the criminal justice system.
BOSCAR examined trends from 1994 to 2013 in bail outcomes, the use of imprisonment as a sanction for convicted offenders, and average length of prison sentence imposed for convicted offenders.
The study found that there is no evidence that the NSW criminal courts have become more lenient overall in the past two decades; on the contrary, sentencing has become more severe in many offence categories.
The graph below shows the percentage of defendants appearing in the NSW Higher Courts between 1994 and 2013 who were refused bail. The graph below shows a significant upward trend in the proportion of defendants refused bail over the 20 year period from 26.1 per cent in 1994 to 47.7 per cent in 2013.
Defendants appearing in the NSW Higher Courts between 1994 and 2013 who were refused bail:
BOSCAR also examined Local Court trends and found that the proportion of all defendants refused bail in NSW Local Courts between 1994 and 2013 again had an upward trend over the 20 year period, from 4.7 per cent of defendants being refused bail in 1994 to 8.8 per cent in 2013.
In addition to more individuals being refused bail, BOSCAR examined the proportion of convicted offenders who received a sentence of imprisonment in NSW Higher Courts from 1994 to 2013, by offence type. From the table below, the use of imprisonment in NSW Higher Courts increased significantly for 10 of the 15 offence categories presented from 1994 to 2013 with the other 5 categories remaining stable during the same period.
Percentage of convicted offenders imprisoned, 1994 to 2013:
BOSCAR also examined the trends in the proportion of convicted offenders who received a sentence of imprisonment in NSW Local Courts. BOSCAR again found that the percentage of offenders imprisoned by the Local Courts increased significantly for 10 of the 15 offence categories.
Not only did the report show that more people were being sentenced to imprisonment but those sentenced to imprisonment saw an increase in the length of time spent in custody for 6 of the 15 offence categories in NSW Higher Courts and 10 of the 15 offence categories in NSW Local Courts with all other categories remaining stable between 1994 and 2013.
Over the last 20 years in NSW, the proportion of defendants refused bail, the proportion of convicted offenders given a prison sentence and the average length of prison terms, have all risen.