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If you’ve been charged with a criminal offence you may have to go to court. It’s up to the magistrate to hear the evidence and decide if you’re guilty and what your penalty should be.
All criminal cases start in the Magistrates Court. This court deals with summary offences and some less serious indictable offences. More serious indictable offences must be sent to the District or Supreme Court by a process called a committal.
You have 3 options on your first court date. You can:
You should get legal advice if you've been charged with an offence and you're going to court. You should get your QP9 before getting legal advice. A QP9 is a written summary of the police version of why you were charged and what happened. You can get your QP9 from the police prosecutor on your first court date (the duty lawyer may be able to help you obtain a copy). If you can’t collect it on your first court date, you'll need to apply to police prosecutions for a copy. You’ll need to make a written request and show photo ID.
If you're 17 or older and you have been charged with a criminal offence and/or some traffic offences, you will have to appear in the Magistrates Court. All criminal cases for people who are 17 and older start in the Magistrates Court. If you’re under 17 and have been charged with an offence—see young people and the justice system.
The Magistrates Court usually deals with criminal offences called summary offences, traffic offences, and less serious indictable offences. Most property offences, such as fraud and stealing will be dealt with in the Magistrates Court, unless the property involved in the offence is worth more than $30,000.
More serious indictable offences will be sent from the Magistrates Court to a higher court by a process called a committal. This includes offences like armed robbery and rape. For some offences, such as assault occasioning bodily harm, you may choose to have your trial in a higher court or the Magistrates Court.
You should get legal advice about which court will deal with your matter.
All cases are heard by a single magistrate. There’s no jury for cases in the Magistrates Court. Magistrates can sentence offenders who plead guilty, and decide the outcome of summary trials where people plead not guilty.
You must go to court on the date on the:
This paperwork will say which Magistrates Court you have to go to and when you have to go. The first court date is called the first ‘mention’ date.
If you don’t go to court when you are supposed to, the magistrate may issue a warrant for your arrest.
You can ask the magistrate to transfer your case to another court in Queensland closer to your home. You can usually do this only if you're going to plead guilty in the Magistrates Court. You should get legal advice if you are wanting to change the location of your case.
Before going to court you should:
You might be there all day depending on the number of matters before the court. You should plan to take the whole day off from work and organise child care (if needed).
When arriving at court you should:
When in the courtroom you should:
What happens in the courtroom will depend on your charges and if you choose to plead guilty or not guilty.
The magistrate will read out the charge and ask how you want to respond.
Part of the magistrate’s job is to make sure you understand what’s happening. If you don’t understand you can politely ask them to explain it to you.
You, or the duty lawyer, can ask for your case to be adjourned to another date to allow you to get more legal advice and help. If the magistrate gives you an adjournment, you’ll be given a new court date. If your matter is adjourned, you may need to attend a different court on the next date.
You may not be able to get more than one adjournment. The magistrate may decide not to let you have an adjournment and may ask you to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. You should get legal advice before entering a plea.
You can choose to tell the court you are guilty of the offences. This is called pleading guilty. If you plead guilty, you agree to be sentenced as if you had committed the offence as described by the prosecutor.
You should read the QP9 (the police’s version of events). If you disagree with any of the police details about your offence you must tell the duty lawyer or the police prosecutor.
Don't plead guilty unless you understand exactly what the police have charged you with. It will be very difficult to change your plea after you have pleaded guilty. A conviction can have serious consequences and you should get legal advice.
You can plead guilty and be sentenced by the magistrate if you're charged with an offence which can be dealt with in the Magistrates Court. You may be sentenced immediately if the Magistrate has the capacity to deal with your matter on this day, or your sentencing may be set down for a later date.
If your matter can’t be dealt with by the Magistrates Court, your case will be sent to a higher court, like the District or Supreme Court.
For more information about pleading guilty see the have you been charged with an offence guide.
If you've received a Complaint and summons or a Notice to appear from a Queensland police officer for a minor offence and you agree you've committed the offence, you may be able to plead guilty online.
Minor offences include:
You must submit a guilty plea online more than 2 business days before your court date so it can be processed in time.
You can't plead guilty online if you have received a Notice to Appear for, or been charged with, a more serious indictable offence.
You should get legal advice to help you make your decision about whether to plead guilty online.
You will still have to pay the offender levy if you plead guilty online.
You can tell the court you did not commit the offences the police have charged you with—this is called pleading not guilty. You'll then be given a new date to come to court for a hearing.
The prosecutor must prove you're guilty beyond reasonable doubt. It is not up to you to prove you are innocent
If your matter can be heard in the Magistrates Court, the magistrate will then set a date for you to appear at a mention called the summary callover. At the summary callover you can attempt to negotiate with the prosecutor through the duty lawyer (see case conferencing) or you may list your matter for trial.
The prosecutor must give you a full brief of evidence within 5 weeks of the summary callover date.
At the trial, the prosecutor presents all evidence to try to prove their case. Each witness takes their turn to tell the magistrate what they know.
Either you or your lawyer can cross-examine the prosecution witnesses (sometimes called 'crown witnesses’). You can give evidence and call your own witnesses, but you don’t have to.
The magistrate will then make a decision to:
If acquitted, you're free to go.
If the magistrate decides that you're guilty, you'll be sentenced.
If your matter can’t be heard in the Magistrates Court and needs to go to trial in the District or Supreme Court, then the magistrate will set a date for you to appear at a mention called the committal callover.
For more information about pleading not guilty see the have you been charged with an offence guide.
You should get legal advice.
The Magistrates Court is an open court (ie any person can watch the cases), unless:
If you have a lawyer and are disputing your charge, then your lawyer may have a case conference with the prosecutor. This is a discussion between your lawyer or the duty lawyer, and the prosecutor to try and negotiate a better solution for everyone. This might mean the prosecution agrees to drop some charges if you plead guilty to others, or some other agreement that will help resolve your matter faster.
If there's a duty lawyer in court, you can ask them for advice about case conferences. If there's no duty lawyer available, the police prosecutor is not required to case conference with a person who is not legally represented. Despite this, the prosecutor may be willing to talk to you about your charge.
If you’re found guilty, the magistrate will decide your sentence. They'll ask the police prosecutor if you have a criminal history or traffic history. If there's anything you don’t agree with in the criminal history, tell your lawyer or the magistrate.
The magistrate will then ask if there's anything you want to say about your situation that could affect your penalty.
If you have written character references or other supporting information like medical reports or a letter from your employer, hand them to the prosecutor to give to the magistrate. References are generally only useful if the person writing them knows you've been charged with the offence and you’re being sentenced for committing the crime.
You, or your lawyer, can also tell the magistrate any relevant details, for example:
These things are called mitigating factors.
The magistrate then sentences you. See possible penalties and sentences.
If you're sentenced to a period of imprisonment, you won't have an opportunity to go home and get your belongings or arrange your affairs. You’ll be taken straight from the court room into custody. You won’t be able to take anything with you. It's best not to take valuables to court, or to carry more than about $50 cash. After your sentence, you may be held at a watch-house for several days until you’re sent to a correctional centre.
If your matter has to be dealt with in the higher court, you or your lawyer will need to tell the court how you would like it sent there.
There are 3 ways your matter can be sent to a higher court.
You can have a full hand up committal or a committal hearing without a lawyer. You should get legal advice. What happens at your committal may affect what charges the prosecution decide to present against you in the higher court, and your ability to negotiate about your charges at a later stage.
Once your case is committed, the case is sent to the District Court sittings or Supreme Court sittings. The court will send you a notice. The prosecutors will have up to 6 months from the day your matter is committed to present your charges in the higher court. If you have any bail conditions you’ll need to continue to follow them until your matter is finalised in the higher court.
If you’re found guilty of an offence in a Queensland court, you’ll have to pay the offender levy in addition to any penalty or sentence you receive.
You may need legal advice if you:
We may give advice on most areas of Queensland criminal law.
If you’ve been charged with a serious offence, or you have any urgent matter, you should apply for legal aid or find a private lawyer rather than waiting for a legal advice booking.
We can’t give advice about participating in a Crime and Corruption Commission interview about official misconduct.
We can’t give advice about interstate criminal law. If you’ve been charged or are going to court in another state or territory, contact the relevant Legal Aid office for information and advice.
The following services may be able to give you legal advice and help.
Community legal centres give free legal advice and information on criminal law. Contact them to find out if they can help.
Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private lawyer for advice or representation on criminal law matters.
Interstate Legal Aid Commissions can give information and advice on criminal charges or court appearances outside Queensland.
If you are charged with an offence, you should ask police prosecutions for a copy of your Queensland Police form 9 (QP9)—this is a written summary prepared by the police of the allegations against you. You should get your QP9 before getting legal advice. You can get your QP9 from the police prosecutor on your first court date (the duty lawyer may be able to help you). If you can't collect the QP9 on your first court date, you’ll need to apply to police prosecutions for a copy. To do this, you will generally need to make a written request and show photo ID.
The following organisations may also be able to help. They do not give legal advice.
Queensland Courts provides information about the courts including (but not limited to):
Disclaimer: This page is provided as information only, and is not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should contact us or speak to a lawyer. View our full disclaimer.
Last updated 18 January 2023