Being charged with an offence
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If you’re charged with an offence, you may have to appear in court.
The police don’t have to arrest you to charge you with an offence.
There are 4 ways you can be charged with an offence and made to go to court:
- the police could arrest you, and keep you in custody until they can take you to court
- you could be given a Notice to appear (which is similar to a summons)
- you could be given a Complaint and summons to appear in court
- if you decide to oppose an infringement notice (eg attend court instead of paying a fine).
If you’ve been charged with an offence and you have to go to court, you should get legal advice.
Arrest and detention in custody
The police can arrest you and keep you in custody at a watch-house or remand centre until you can be taken to court.
If you’re arrested, the police must take you to court as soon as reasonably possible so that you can apply for bail. If you’re given bail, your bail undertaking will say when you need to go back to court.
Notice to appear
Instead of being held in custody by the police, you may be given a ‘Notice to appear’—this will tell you when and where you’ll have to go to court and what you’ve been charged with.
Complaint and summons
You can be charged by being given or sent a Complaint and summons —this will tell you when you have to go to court and what you have been charged with.
Sometimes the police may arrest you, let you go, and then give you a Notice to Appear or send out a Complaint and summons .
Failing to appear
If you don’t go to court on the date printed on your bail undertaking, the Notice to appear or the Complaint and summons, the court can issue a warrant for your arrest and you may be charged with a further offence called failing to appear. The penalty for this offence can include imprisonment.
For some offences, if you fail to appear, the court may find you guilty and sentence you in your absence.
You should get legal advice if you’re unable to go to court on your court date.
Do I need legal advice?
You may need legal advice if you:
- have been charged with an offence and have to go to court
- have missed your court date and think there might be a warrant out for your arrest.
How to get legal advice
We may give legal advice about being charged with a criminal offence.
If you’ve been charged with a serious offence you should apply for legal aid (if you’re eligible), or find a private lawyer rather than wait for a legal advice booking.
The following organisations may be able to give you legal advice:
Community legal centres may give free preliminary legal advice and information on some criminal law matters. Most don’t provide legal representation. Contact them to find out if they can help.
Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private lawyer for advice and representation.
Who else can help?
These organisations may be able to help. They don’t give legal advice.
Queensland Police Service Headquarters investigates complaints about police misconduct and breaches of discipline. The internal complaints process is monitored by the Crime and Corruption Commission.
Crime and Corruption Commission investigates complaints about official misconduct, even where the original complaint has been made to Queensland Police. The organisation monitors the police internal complaints process and can take over investigations if necessary, but does not handle complaints about police misconduct directly.
Queensland Courts provides information about the:
- Supreme Court
- Court of Appeal
- District Court
- Magistrates Court
- Coroners Court
- Childrens Court of Queensland
- Land Court.
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 11 April 2023
If you have a general question for Legal Aid Queensland, please use the general question form or call 1300 65 11 88, Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4.30pm.