The Prosecution Project is an initiative of Professor Mark Finnane’s ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship at Griffith University. The project has produced a rich understanding of how crime has been prosecuted in Australia, providing access to new data for use by both researchers and the general community.

Using the archival records from Australian states, Professor Finnane and his research team have created a public online resource, The Prosecution Project, digitising court records from seven jurisdictions as far back as the 1820s. The search available on this website reveals a  fascinating insight into the types of crimes historically prosecuted—for example, on 4 April 1855, George Thomas was found to be guilty of the crime of being ‘disobedient at sea’ in the NSW Supreme Court, while in 1865, Edward J White was sentenced to 2 years in Parramatta Gaol for ‘personating a voter’.

The website also publishes story excerpts from the National Library of Australia’s Trove resource, pulling text from newspaper articles about criminal trials which took place ‘on this week’. By clicking on the link to Trove, users can read the original newsprint version of the article, providing detail of the crime, witnesses, trial proceedings and judicial sentencing.

By placing little-known cases in historical context, this project has been able to build an understanding of the criminal justice system through the ages and provide new, interesting insights into the needs of contemporary society.

The over 600,000 case records uploaded on the website are an important part of Australian history and form the story of criminal justice in Australia. The database allows comparative research studies, providing insight into the differences between state jurisdictions and the possibility of examining the histories of each type of criminal offence.

Image: Professor Mark Finnane working with data from the Prosecution Project.
Credit: Griffith University.