The criminal trial is the core of the Australian criminal justice system. It is the product of police investigation and its outcomes include the sentences of imprisonment that populate our prisons.
Criminal trials have been taking place in Australia since the first days of settlement. The archives of the Australian states are custodians of their records, which are among the most complete in the world. The potential of these records for use by family historians as well as researchers has been recognised already by the increasing availability of digitised indexes, such as those developed at NSW State Records (eg the Prison photo books) and the Founders and Survivors database of Tasmanian convict and other records.
The Prosecution Project is investigating the history of the criminal trial in Australia. We will start by digitising the registers of Supreme Court cases that are available in most jurisdictions. These record the names of accused as well as their offences and the outcomes of the trials.
From this base data, extended through use of other archival sources and supplemented by the Trove digitised newspapers (http://trove.nla.gov.au/) we will analyse patterns of crime, prosecution and punishment over long periods of time, with more intensive archival studies of particular crimes, regions, eras, and legal and policing policies and practices. The project’s start and end dates of 1850-1960 will vary for jurisdictions according to the availability of records.
This project will produce a rich understanding of how crime has been prosecuted in Australia. It will also tell us much about Australian history – how people lived, how they behaved, how they dealt with conflict and tragedy, how legal and political institutions responded to crime and its consequences.
This project is supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC Laureate Fellowship, 2013-18) and Griffith University.