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Crime and Police in Australia

Australia is a relatively safe place but, like anywhere in the world, crime exists. This article looks at crime rates in Australia and explains how the Australian judiciary and law enforcement works.

Crime

Australia is a relatively safe place but, as with anywhere in the world, crime is a reality. National crime statistics are coordinated by the Australian Institute of Criminology.

These statistics, taken on their own, don’t tell you very much about a country of 22 million people. However, just for your information, about 300 homicides are recorded nationwide each year. There are about 170,000 reported assaults, 19,000 sexual assaults and 16,000 violent robberies. There are about 250,000 ‘break and enter’ burglaries and 60,000 motor vehicle thefts (these are dropping markedly and consistently as technology improves – they dropped 57 per cent between 2001 and 2009, for instance). Spread those statistics across a year and 7.7 million square kilometres and it becomes evident most people are going about their daily business free of crime.

Each State has its own police force, and it is those services that will investigate the kind of crimes above. There is also a Federal Police service that looks after Federal matters including international crime, national security and counter-terrorism.

In an emergency you can summon the police using 000. In all states except Queensland and Victoria you can request police attendance by calling 131 444 and officers the nearest police officers will be dispatched. If you have information on a crime, you can the Crimestoppers hotline on 1800 333 000. You can remain anonymous if you wish and you could receive an award.

Judiciary and Courts

Under the Australian Constitution the judiciary is kept separate from Government – although it is obviously the judiciary’s role to interpret and apply the laws made by the Government. It’s based on the English system, to a large degree, and there is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and the right to a fair trial. Trial by a jury of 12 citizens exists. There is no death penalty in any Australian state or territory. There are both criminal and civil law systems operating in Australia.

The High Court of Australia is the highest court in the land and has Federal jurisdiction and mostly hears appeals from lower courts. These courts are mostly state-based and deal with specific kinds of matters. They include various Supreme Courts, the Federal Court, the Family Court and – at the lowest level – the Magistrate’s Court. The latter is where criminal matters are first heard. Small misdemeanours are dealt with at this level while others are escalated for trial, and so on.

Despite the separation of executive government and the judiciary, it is the executive government (the Prime Minister and their Cabinet, or the Premier of a State and their Cabinet) who appoint judges. They can serve until the age of 70.

Equality before the law is a tenant of the Australian legal system. Everyone has the right to legal representation in a court of law and a right to access the legal system when they need it. Accordingly, we have something called Legal Aid, which is provided by State and Territory governments to those who cannot afford legal representation from there own resources. Your ability and right to access Legal Aid will be assessed, should you apply for it.

Police and Fines

Each Australian state has its own police service enforcing the laws of that jurisdiction. The police have the ability to fine you on-the-spot for various breaches of the law. In some states they can issue you with ‘move on’ notices. They have the power to search you (with suspicion), arrest you, detain you and charge you. On the road, they can stop your car, breathalise you (in some states they can drug test you), deem your car not roadworthy and take it off the road, fine and arrest you.

Fines for various crimes differ between states, but most fines are in the vicinity of $100 to $300 for everything from speeding to talking on your mobile phone while driving to littering. For traffic offences, you will also be given demerit points. After 12 of these you will lose your driver’s licence.

Police do not only enforce law, of course. You can also call them to attend if you feel threatened, unsafe, witness a crime, or are the victim of a crime. Police services run prevention programs and also have trained officers who can help victims of crime, including specific kinds of crime like sexual assaults.

Visit our Life in Australia section for more articles related to Daily Life in Australia.

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