Attending court for criminal charges can be a daunting experience. However, understanding what to expect can make the experience less difficult and intimidating.
Types of Courts in Australia
If you are facing criminal charges, you will receive a Court Attendance Notice or other paperwork that informs you of the charges and the date and time of your court appearance. This paperwork will also indicate which court you will need to attend.
There are three main levels of criminal courts in each Australian state/territory, each with its own jurisdiction. The court you will attend depends on the seriousness of the charges:
- Magistrates Court/Local Court: This is the lowest level of court and is responsible for hearing minor criminal matters such as traffic offences, minor assault charges, and some property offences.
- District/County Court: The intermediate court hears more serious criminal matters, including indictable offences such as burglary, drug offences, and serious assault charges.
- Supreme Court: The Supreme Court is the highest state-based court and hears the most serious criminal matters, such as murder trials.
What to expect
Your lawyer will provide you with guidance about what to expect during your hearing, but it can be helpful to have a short summary that you can reference.
When you arrive, you will need to go through security screening, check in with the court registry and locate the correct courtroom. This can take time, so aim to arrive early.
The first part of the hearing involves you entering a plea. If you plead guilty, the matter will proceed to sentencing. If you plead not guilty, the matter will proceed to a trial. Your lawyer will speak on your behalf during the court proceedings. If you do not have a lawyer, you will have to represent yourself and make your own submissions to the judge and jury.
The prosecution will present evidence to support their case. You or your lawyer will have the opportunity to challenge the evidence presented and present evidence in your defence. If there are witnesses in your case, they may be called to give evidence in court. They will be required to take an oath or affirmation to tell the truth.
If you plead guilty or are found guilty at trial, the matter will proceed to sentencing. The judge will take into account the seriousness of the offence, the circumstances surrounding the offence, and your personal circumstances when deciding on the appropriate sentence. If you are unhappy with the outcome of your case, you may be able to appeal the decision. However, there are strict time limits for appealing a decision, so it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible.
It is important to note that the court process can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific details of your case. It is recommended that you seek legal advice to understand the specific court process in your situation.
Many defendants feel frustrated and intimidated by the criminal justice system. The formality and rules of the courtroom can feel archaic and out-of-step with modern society. However, it is important to know that your conduct will have an influence on how your case proceeds. Although it is not directly relevant to the prosecution establishing the elements of the crime, if you disrupt the courtroom or fail to comply with courtroom etiquette it makes it more difficult for your lawyer to mount a convincing defence.
Here are some tips to help you navigate courtroom etiquette:
- Try to avoid wearing revealing, dirty, torn or offensive clothing.
- Switch off your phone before court.
- When the judge or magistrate enters the courtroom, stand up. Address the judge or magistrate as “Your Honour”.
- Allow the judge or magistrate, lawyers, and other witnesses to speak without interruption. Unless you are specifically asked to speak, do not interrupt or interject.
- It is fine to use normal language when you give evidence. There is no need to use legalese. However, it is important to speak clearly and avoid using profanities or insulting language.
Getting legal help
If you are facing criminal charges, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. A lawyer can help you understand the charges and the legal process and can provide you with representation in court. By being prepared and informed, you can ensure that you receive a fair hearing and the best possible outcome in your case.