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Legal words and phrases explained

Adjournment — When your case is put off to another day to allow you to get legal advice and further help.

Bail — A written promise you sign after you have been arrested and charged. The bail document will have conditions and requirements you have to follow. There are different types of bail conditions such as:

  • bail on your own undertaking
  • bail with residential or reporting conditions
  • bail with a surety.

If you are not given bail, you will be kept in custody until your next court mention.

Bar table — The table in the courtroom where the police prosecutor, lawyers and defendants stand when appearing before the magistrate.

Committal hearing — A committal is a procedure in the Magistrates Court for some indictable offences.

The court hears the police evidence about your offence so the magistrate can decide if there is enough evidence for the matter to go to a higher court.

You can only ask for a committal date to be set if:

  • your offence is an indictable offence that must be heard in a higher court
  • there is a right of election (this means either you have a choice about which court your case is heard in, or the police have the choice and decide to take it to a higher court).

Conference — A conference is where you (or the duty lawyer or your lawyer) have a discussion with the police prosecutor regarding your charge(s). A conference may result in:

  • no agreement
  • agreement to drop or amend certain charges
  • agreement regarding the election of the charge (ie to be dealt with in the magistrates or district court).

Elements of an offence — The police have to prove to the court, beyond a reasonable doubt, you are guilty of each ‘element’ of the offence you have been charged with. Elements can include time, date, location and actual charge.

Fail to appear — If you don’t go to court on the right date, you could be charged with an offence called ‘failing to appear’. The court may issue a warrant for your arrest if you don’t go to court on the correct date.

First appearance/mention — The first time you have to appear in court. Your first mention date will be set down in your notice to appear, summons or bail conditions.

Full hand up committal — where the police statements are provided to the magistrate and no cross examination occurs and you are then committed to stand trial in the district court.

Hearing — Your day in court when the prosecution tries to prove you are guilty and you try to prove you are not guilty.

Indictable offence — A more serious offence than a summary offence. The magistrates court hears some indictable offences, but others are dealt with by the district court or Supreme Court.

Many indictable offences must now be dealt with in the magistrates court.

With some indictable offences you, or the police prosecutor, can choose if it is heard in the magistrates court or a higher court.

Mention (or appearance) dates — The different dates you have to go to court.

Mitigating circumstances — Facts or information that might explain how or why you came to commit your offence and that may, therefore, help your case.

Notice to appear — A written document that tells you what you have been charged with and when and where you have to go to court. The police can give you a Notice to appear when they charge you or they can send it to you in the mail.

Partial brief — This will contain the witness statements of the complaint and list the evidence that the police are relying on.

Full brief — This will contain all the evidence including witness and police statements, video and audio tapes and other evidence that prosecutions are relying on to prove their case.

Police prosecutor — A police officer who presents the case against you to the magistrate.

QP9 — A written summary of the police version of why you were charged and what happened. Right of election — if you have been charged with an indictable offence, you or the police prosecutor may be able to choose if your case is heard in the magistrates court or in a higher court like the district court or Supreme Court.

Submissions — Verbal comments made to a magistrate to support a case.

Summary callover — If you plead not guilty at the summary callover, your matter will be set for a summary hearing.

Summary hearing — A summary hearing is a procedure in the magistrates court for summary offences and some indictable offences. The court hears the police evidence and any evidence you wish to call about your offence so the magistrate can decide whether you are guilty or not guilty.

You can only ask for a summary hearing date to be set if your offence is an offence that can be heard in the magistrates court, otherwise your matter must go to the district or Supreme Court.

Summary offence — Usually a less serious offence always dealt with by a magistrate in the magistrates court. Examples include driving offences, creating a public nuisance, trespassing, unlawfully having suspected stolen property, or having a spray can for graffiti.

Summons to appear — A summons is a document requiring you to go to court on a certain date. It will also include what you have been charged with.

A summons works like a Notice to appear except that police need a justice of the peace to sign it. The police then serve it on you and lodge it with the court.

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