What is involved in going to court ?

Gavel, Book and a Handcuff — District Court in Macquarie, NSW

Which court?

  • Less serious criminal cases, sometimes called summary cases, are typically dealt with by the NSW Local Court alone.
  • The Local Court also ‘hears’ criminal cases where a person has received a penalty or infringement notice or a fine and has chosen to have the matter heard by a court.
    • Less serious crimes (including T1,T2)
  • Most local court criminal cases are determined by a magistrate.
  • The person alleged to have committed the offence will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If a plea of guilty is entered, the Court will decide the penalty to impose and the case will be finalised. If a plea of not guilty is entered witnesses will be called to give evidence. A magistrate will decide if the person is guilty or not guilty. If the person is found to be guilty the Court will decide the penalty
    • Serious ‘Indictable’ crimes (Si)
  • Serious criminal cases first come to the Local Court but may progress to a higher court such as the District or Supreme Court. This is called a committal process.
  • These are serious crimes that cannot be finalised by the Local Court. In these cases, the Local Court will conduct a hearing called a committal hearing. The role of the magistrate in committal hearings is to determine whether the prosecution evidence is capable of satisfying a jury, beyond reasonable doubt, that the accused person has committed an indictable offence.
  • If the magistrate is satisfied that the evidence is capable of satisfying a jury, the person is committed for trial or sentence to a higher court (either the district court or the supreme court, depending on the offences). Cases committed to a higher court are then determined by a judge and jury.
  • Plea of Not Guilty
  • If you enter a plea of not guilty on the first occasion, your matter will be adjourned (depending on the charge) for six weeks so that the prosecution can serve upon you or your solicitor, a copy of all evidence that they will rely upon at the Hearing of your matter.
  • Police are obliged to provide a copy of written statements of all witnesses that they seek to call in the prosecution of your matter, as the onus is on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you have committed a criminal offence.
  • After service of the Police Brief of Evidence, you will again appear before the Court for a ‘reply’. At the second mention, unless you change your plea to guilty, the Court will list your matter for Hearing at the next available opportunity.
  • Generally, the third time that you will appear before that Court will be when your matter proceeds to a Hearing. On this date, you will be required to bring to Court all witnesses that you seek to rely in the defence of the charge. Witnesses are required to give evidence in person and must be made available for cross-examination by the prosecution. All prosecution witnesses are required to be made available for cross-examination.
  • If you have been charged with a domestic violence offence there will be no second mention and the matter will be listed for Hearing at the first appearance if the charge is contested. The brief will be served at least 14 days prior to the Hearing.
  • If you are found not guilty of the offence, this will complete your matter and no further action can be taken by police.
  • If your matter proceeds to a contested Hearing and you are found guilty, the sentencing procedure will apply.

Plea of Guilty, but…

  •  if you enter a plea of guilty, your matter will proceed to sentencing.
  • The police prosecutor, whorepresents NSW Police in prosecution of criminal matters before the Local Court, will provide to the Magistrate the facts relied upon by police to provide the Court a copy of your criminal history.
  • Most matters will then proceed to sentencing on the same date. Sentencing in the Local Court of NSW primarily proceeds by way of submissions made by you or your solicitor detailing to the Court the mitigating circumstances of the offending behaviour and through testimonials and reports written on your behalf.
  • If your matter is a serious and you have a significant criminal history, the Magistrate may adjourn your matter so that they may obtain a Sentence Assessment Report. This will detail to the Court the sentencing options available. Such reports are required for any sentences other than a Conditional Release Order , fine or good behaviour bond.
  • If your matter is an indictable offence then the matter will proceed by a specialised timetable and you will be committed for sentence before the District or Supreme Court.
  • If you have been charged with a traffic offence, your matter may be adjourned for you to attend a Traffic
  • Offenders ProgramThe Traffic Offenders Program is a 6-8 week (depending upon the location) driver education program which will have an effect upon the length of disqualification and fine imposed by the Court. There are alternative programs available.
  • If your matter is adjourned for either a Pre-Sentence Report or attendance at the Traffic Offenders Program, the matter will be adjourned to again come before the same Court for sentencing.