Criminal histories: Co-offending in property crime in Australia, 1861-1961

L. Vogel1*, A. Piper2

1 Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University
2 Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University

*corresponding author:

Perhaps one of the more robust findings in criminology research is that crime is often committed with others. As a result the phenomenon of co-offending has attracted considerable contemporary scholarly interest. Much of this research has focused on quantitatively examining the correlates or predictors of co-offending. Such research suggests, for instance, that age, gender, and offence type influence the odds of co-offending whereby co-offending is more common in female offenders, in the committal of property offences, and declines as offenders age. However, what can we learn about co-offending by exploring its past?

The Australian Research Council funded Prosecution Project offers a unique opportunity to quantitatively and qualitatively explore the evolution of co-offending in Australia. This project is digitising the historical criminal trial records from most Australian jurisdictions and linking these records to other archival material such as prison records and media reports. Such historical data offers a unique opportunity to explore population-level trends in co-offending across time in combination with micro-level trends in co-offending across the lifespan of individual criminal careers. This particular paper will outline initial exploratory results from work undertaken in data linkage between trial records, prison registers, and media reports to reconstruct the criminal careers of property offenders across 100 years. In addition to the personal characteristics of offenders and their various crime incidents, this data linkage can identify details of their lives, prosecution and prison experiences, and the way in which they were perceived by the justice system and broader society. Taking an interdisciplinary historical/criminological approach, we will explore not only the evolution of co-offending in property crime at the micro-level but also highlight the unique insights and opportunities that historical criminological research holds.


Dr. Lauren Vogel has a PhD and Bachelors degree in Psychology. She is currently a Research Fellow in the Griffith Criminology Institute, primarily working on the Prosecution Project – an ARC Laureate project exploring the history of the criminal trial in Australia, circa 1850-1960. With a diverse and multi-disciplinary background in research, teaching, and consultancy, Lauren is particularly interested in the analytical and quantitative components of the Prosecution Project.

The guilty plea and the transformation of the criminal trial

L. Durnian

Griffith University,

The rising rates of guilty pleas to serious criminal offences has transformed the prosecution process. While some studies link this historical development to the emergence of plea bargaining practices in nineteenth century American courts, scholars have neglected the origins of this phenomenon in the Australian legal system where there has been a reluctance to acknowledge that plea-bargaining exists. This paper addresses the issue of the guilty plea by examining prosecution practices during the twentieth century in Australian Supreme Courts. It extends previous historical plea-bargaining research, providing a more nuanced examination of the relationship between guilty pleas and particular criminal offences. This paper employs data from the Prosecution Project, an emerging database of historical criminal trials across multiple Australian jurisdictions. It analyses data from more than 7,000 criminal trials between 1901 and 1961 in the Queensland and Victorian Supreme Courts. It identifies the points in time when guilty pleas first dominated case outcomes, and explores the relationship between the accelerating proportions of guilty pleas and specific criminal offences. It provides examples of individual criminal cases to highlight the specific factors driving defendants’ pleas to these offences.


Ms Lisa Durnian joined the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University in 2014. She is an ARC Laureate PhD candidate with the Prosecution Project, which is investigating the history of the criminal trial in Australia. Her doctoral research explores the structural mechanisms that led to system transformation in criminal trials; that is, the shift from traditional jury trials to the current phenomena where most criminal matters end in guilty pleas. Her thesis involves mixed-methods analyses to track changes in the disposition of criminal cases over time.

Plea negotiations: Shining light on the negotiated guilty plea process in Victoria

A. Freiberg1, A. Flynn2*

1 Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg, Faculty of Law, Monash University
2 Dr Asher Flynn, School of Social Sciences, Monash University

*corresponding author:

Across all Australian jurisdictions, the majority of criminal cases are resolved by guilty plea as opposed to running a trial. While the number of guilty pleas entered annually is generally well documented, limited information is available on the processes that facilitate such pleas. In particular, there is an absence of Australian research that examines the intricacies of plea negotiation processes, including how the practice operates and what negotiated outcomes actually entail.

This presentation will address the research gap by discussing the findings of the Negotiated Guilty Pleas: An Empirical Analysis project – the first study in any Australian State or Territory to develop a data set of plea negotiations based on a comprehensive mixed-methods analysis of legal aid case files and in-depth interviews with police and OPP prosecutors, defence practitioners and judicial officers from a mix of rural, regional and urban locations across Victoria. In reflecting on the project findings, this presentation will provide a unique analysis of the undocumented practice of plea negotiations in Victoria.

Note: The Negotiated Guilty Pleas: An Empirical Analysis project is funded by the Criminology Research Council (CRG51/13-14).


Arie Freiberg is an Emeritus Professor at Monash University, where he was Dean of the Faculty of Law from 2004-2012. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and the Australian Academy of Law. He is also a member of the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration and the Judicial College of Victoria. He is the Chair of both the Victorian and Tasmanian Sentencing Advisory Councils and in 2009, was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his contributions to criminology, sentencing law, legal education and academic leadership. Emeritus Professor Freiberg has over 150 publications.