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Pleading Not Guilty to an Offence in the County or Supreme Court

Whether a matter is heard in the County Court or Supreme Court is generally reflective of how serious the charges are. Most criminal cases can be heard in the County Court except very serious offences such as murder. The prosecutors choose to start proceedings in the Supreme Court rather than the County Court for some serious drug offences and conspiracy type charges.

Trials in the Supreme Court take longer and the sentences imposed are generally greater than County Court cases.

A solicitor acting for you will need to prepare for briefing counsel (also referred to as a Barrister). The choice of Counsel is crucial. Cases in the Higher Courts usually carry quite hefty gaol terms. It is very also imporatnt to have the same Counsel, if possible, throughout the process. Barristers who appeared at the committal will be better prepared for a trial if they have a good idea of what the witnesses are like.

Filing Hearing / Bail Application or Variation*

  • Dates set for service of brief of evidence and for committal mention.
  • Discussions with the prosecution.
  • First opportunity to make a bail application or bail variation.

*This stage of the proceedings is always heard in the Magistrates’ Court.

Committal Mention / Committal Case Conference*

  • Negotiations with the prosecution.
  • Seek further material.
  • Special mentions, subpoenas and other legal issues.
  • For a not guilty plea a date is obtained and leave sought from the Court to cross examine relevant witnesses.
  • If the charges permit, an application can be made that the case remain in and be determined in the Magistrate’s Court without going to the County Court.
  • Often the committal mention is the point at which the case will resolve.
    A discussion with the Prosecutor might work out some settlement of the case that suits both parties. Or it may be that after reading the hand-up brief the prosecutor accepts that the most serious charges can not be proved.

*This stage of the proceedings is always heard in the Magistrates’ Court

Contested Committal*

  • Test the prosecution case, to see if there is sufficient evidence to go to trial.
  • Witnesses cross-examined. Question police informant about investigative steps.
  • Committed to stand trial OR
  • Discharged & might be able to apply for costs.
  • Test of sufficient evidence a very low threshold.
  • Almost all accused are committed to stand trial.

*This stage of the proceedings is always heard in the Magistrates’ Court.

The Magistrate will determine whether a jury there is enough evidence for you to be committed and that a jury could find you guilty.

The prosecution will present their evidence. It not customary for the defence or any of their witnesses to  give evidence at this stage.

The Magistrate may dismiss all charges against you if they “do not believe there is sufficient evidence that a properly directed jury could convict you”.

Usually,  a committal hearing is useful for obtaining more information about the charges by asking the witnesses and clarifying issues for a plea or a trial.

If the accused is committed to stand trial, the matter is sent to the Court that has the
jurisdiction and will be hearing the matter. Mostly all sex offence charges are heard in theCounty Court. On very rare occasions, sex charges are heard in the Supreme Court.

First Directions Hearing / Final Directions Hearing / Mention

The first directions hearing is primarily to ensure that everything is going along on track.

A directions hearing enables the Court to ascertain whether witnesses are available that funds are in place for representation, among other things.

Subpoenas are needed to officially obtain materials that will be useful to your case
Expert reports are especially helpful to disprove wrong assumptions by the prosecution
Alibis should be identified, examined, and organized so notices can be effectively lodged
Other steps that your lawyer will suggest

  • Court is informed of factual & legal issues.
  • Formally state case in writing.
  • Preliminary legal issues discussed.
  • Can be any number of directions hearings but at least two.
  • A mention is when you go to Court to argue some issues before trial, or to get documents under subpoena.

Getting a copy of the depositions

In a criminal case, the depositions (‘deps”) are a copy of all the documents that were tendered in evidence (given) to the Magistrate at the committal proceedings including a transcript of any evidence by people questioned at the committal hearing.

Trial

 

  • Preliminary legal issues ruled upon.
  • Prosecution call witnesses and tender evidence to prove its case.
  • Prosecution witnesses can be cross-examined by defence. Defence can call our own witnesses, including the accused to give evidence.

If Found Guilty
Plea / Sentence Hearing

  • Plea in mitigation. Personal history and the circumstances of the offence.
  • Submissions about legal issues, sentencing considerations and appropriate sentence.
  • Often, sentencing will take place on a different date as the Judge wants to consider the information and will often write a long judgement.
  • Sometimes, the Judge will ask for further submissions on the sentencing date.
  • The Judge will make sentencing remarks and deliver a sentence.

If you have are due to appear in court for either a criminal or driving offence it is important to seek advice from a lawyer who specialises in this area.

Call us on 1300 331 331 or book an appointment to see one of our lawyers.

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