Incorporating Demographic Trends in Forecasting Court Resources

There are many reasons people appear in court, and the type of person likely to appear in court varies considerably by the type of offence or matter.  For example, a filing for divorce is likely to come from someone in their thirties or forties while someone appearing on a drink-driving offence is more likely to be in their twenties.  If these propensities are stable over time, how will that affect the need for courtrooms and judges in 20 or 40 years’ time?

Why Forecast Future Courtroom Requirements?

It is important to carry out long term planning for courtrooms to ensure that there is a sufficient number of courtrooms and judges, ideally located in areas where they can be easily reached by staff and the public.  Court complexes, particularly for criminal matters, are complex buildings which need to take into account the needs of security, management of prisoners and the variety of people attending them.  They are expensive to build and difficult to subsequently change.  Hence proper planning is essential.

Who Appears in Court?

The answer to this question varies considerably by court.  Some examples include:

  • The Family Court deals with divorce, property of a marriage or de facto relationship, matters relating to children, maintenance, adoptions and surrogacy.  Individuals filing cases in this court are most likely to be in their thirties and forties.
  • The Supreme Court is the State's highest court, with responsibility for both civil and serious criminal matters.  It is also the State's main appeal court.  While many of the criminal cases presented to the court have offenders in their twenties, there are some types of offences for which the rate is constant across age-groups.

  • The Magistrates Court is spread over many locations.  The court hears both criminal and civil claims.  The demographic profile is similar to the Supreme Court with many of the cases presented to the court having offenders in their twenties. 

A Simplistic (But Flawed) Approach to Forecasting Demand for Courts

A simple approach to forecasting demand would be to use a population growth estimate and assume court appearances grow in line with population growth.  Why is this flawed?  

For each type of hearing, the age and gender of those appearing in court is reasonably stable over time.  At the same time, not all age groups in the Australian population are growing at the same rate.  The major consideration for Australia is that the population is ageing, a result of the post-World War II baby boom still affecting us.  On average, older and retired people have a much lower propensity to appear in court, so the growth of this age segment does not have a major impact upon most Courts.  Therefore, a forecast for future courts requirements needs to consider the expected demographic changes, not just overall population growth rates. 

The Data Analysis Australia Solution

In forecasting future demand for courts, Data Analysis Australia gives particular consideration to the demographic changes in Australia.  Some of these considerations are:

  • The level of immigration and how this is affected by economic conditions;

  • Impacts of historical events such as the “baby boom”;

  • Changes in fertility; and

  • Increases in life expectancy. 

Each of these has a different impact on the demand for courts.  For example, an immigrant may be married and soon after arriving may file for divorce, placing an immediate demand on the courts.  This is very different to the impact of increased natural population growth as infants are not likely to appear in court (though there may be cases lodged regarding custody). 

Data Analysis Australia also considers non-demographic trends.  Some of these considerations included:

  • Do couples arguing over property litigate more with an increase in wealth?  How will this affect the amount of time each case requires in court?

  • The murder rate is decreasing.  Are we becoming less violent?  Or is that decrease matched by a corresponding increase in high level assaults because intervention by Police and health workers is quicker?

Data Analysis Australia carries out consultations with relevant staff and uses data supplied by the courts to investigate non-demographic trends.  Our investigations include considering actual times in court compared to the planned times, and looking into trends for each type of matter.

The modelling procedures used by Data Analysis Australia allow for demographic changes and non-demographic trends described above.

Impacts of Demographic Change in Other Forecasting Contexts

There are many other areas in which the demographic changes will impact on forecasts.  Some examples include:

  • Future demand for education services: Natural population growth (or decline) will have an impact on primary, secondary, tertiary institutions and demand for care outside of school.  Since schools serve a narrow range of ages, they are particularly affected by demographic shifts at a local level.

  • Future demand for pensions: Demand will increase in line with the ageing population.  The economic effects of this are already being felt.  Historically the working population supported children, both their own and, through taxes, the children of others.  Now older people need to be supported.

  • Demand for healthcare: a large proportion of health expenditure goes to people in their last years.  Demand for health services in general, and geriatric care in particular, will increase in line with the ageing population.

In each of these cases it is clear that change will occur.  The challenge is to quantify the likely change so that the right investments can be made now.

Data Analysis Australia staff are experts in Forecasting and Demography and can assist with forecasts that properly account for demographic trends.  To discuss your forecasting or demographic analysis please contact us at daa@daa.com.au.

December 2014