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Going to court

Before you arrive

  • Find out the court's address and check the location on a map.
  • Organise to arrive at court early. This will give you time to register your arrival at the court counter and see the duty lawyer if you have to.
    You might be there all day depending on the number of matters before the court. You should plan to take the whole day off and organise child care if necessary.
  • Dress neatly.
  • Bring all of your paperwork, a pen and note paper.
  • Organise to take a family member or friend to support you.They can come into the courtroom with you.

When you arrive

  • See the staff at the counter and:
    • tell them your name
    • ask for an interpreter if you need one; the court will arrange and pay for an interpreter
    • find out the courtroom your case will be in or check the daily law list, which is displayed on the notice boards or television screens in the foyers and waiting areas
    • find out where the duty lawyer is if you want advice or if you want them to represent you.
  • Ask the staff at the counter if there is anyone from the Salvation Army, drug services or other organisation you may be able to talk to. They can:
    • tell you what will happen
    • tell you about places that can help you if you have a drug or alcohol problem
    • go into court with you.
  • Wait for your turn. You can sit quietly at the back of the courtroom and watch other cases to get an idea of what happens. Otherwise, wait outside in the foyer. The court clerk will call your name when the magistrate is going to hear your matter.
    If you have told the court clerk and the prosecutor you are waiting to see a duty lawyer, the court will not call you until the duty lawyer tells them you are ready.
  • Turn off your mobile phone. Don't eat, drink or chew gum in court.

Who's who in the courtroom?

Photograph of a courtroom, showing where people in the various roles indicated would be seated

  1. Magistrate — hears the case, decides if you are innocent or guilty and what penalty you should receive.
  2. Depositions clerk — assists the magistrate and records proceedings.
  3. Police prosecutor — explains your charges to the court and presents the police case against you.
  4. Duty lawyer — helps people who have been charged with a criminal offence but do not have their own lawyer.
  5. Defendant — the person who is defending themself against criminal charges (you).
  6. Witnesses — tell the court about something they heard or saw to support your story or the police case against you. Experts, like doctors or engineers, may also be called to give their opinion if needed.

What to do when you are called

  •  Stand when the depositions clerk says "all rise" when the magistrate enters or leave the courtroom.
  • Bow your head to acknowledge the magistrate when you enter or leave the courtroom.
  • Stand when you are being spoken to and address the magistrate as 'Your Honour'. Call the police prosecutor 'the prosecutor'.
  • Speak clearly and follow the magistrate's instructions. You can read from your notes.
  • If you need an interpreter, ask the court for one on your first court date. The magistrate will adjourn your case to another date and the court will organise and pay for an interpreter.

What happens in the courtroom will depend on your charges and if you choose to plead guilty or not guilty.

There are three legal options for your first mention date. You should discuss these options with a lawyer.

What will happen on my first mention or appearance date?

Option 1. Adjournment

You should ensure that you have had legal advice as soon as possible as it may not be possible to obtain more than one adjournment of your matter.

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 court gives you an adjournment you will be given a new date to come to court.

If you have been in police custody, the court will look at what bail conditions are appropriate during the adjournment. Usually you will be given bail on your own undertaking. This means you will have to sign a form before you leave the court promising you will come to court again at the next mention date.

Other bail conditions could include:

  • Bail with residential or reporting conditions — you will have to live at a certain address and report to a particular police station during the week on certain days
  • Bail with a surety — you agree to pay a certain amount of money to the court if you do not appear at the next mention date
  • No bail — if you are not given bail you will be kept in custody until your next mention date. This may be because you have a record of failing to appear, the court thinks you are at risk of committing further offences or for some other legal reason.

Scenario 1 — How to ask for an adjournment

Cartoon image: The judge asks 'Mr Flynn, what do you intend to do today?'; Mr Flynn replies 'I am seeking an adjournment for 2 weeks, Your Honour, I need to get more legal advice.'; and the judge responds 'Very well, we will adjourn your case to 9am Wednesday, 8 May and I will allow you bail on your own undertaking. Please sign the form before you leave the court.'

Your second court appearance

On your second appearance date you must be ready to

tell the magistrate whether you are pleading guilty or not guilty.

If your matter is to proceed in the magistrates court then the magistrate will ask for the result of the case conference, which is a discussion about the charge(s) between the prosecutor and yourself (if you are representing yourself), or between the prosecutor and your lawyer/duty lawyer.

The prosecutor for example may agree to drop some charges, if you plead guilty to others.

Even if you are unable to come up with an agreement you must still tell the magistrate that you have held discussions with the prosecutor.

An election (decision) must be made whether or not your charge(s) can be dealt with by the magistrates court or by the district court. If the prosecutor has the election, they will tell the court where your matter will be heard.

The magistrate may ask you to decide which court you want to go to if the nature of your charge requires you to decide what court your matter is decided in.

Option 2. Plead guilty

You can choose to tell the court you are guilty of the offences you have been charged with by the police.

Do not plead guilty unless you understand exactly what the police have charged you with. A conviction can have serious consequences and you should get legal advice before pleading guilty.

For information on how to plead guilty, see Pleading guilty.

Option 3. Plead not guilty

You can tell the court you did not commit the offences the police have charged you with. You will be given a new date to come to court to hear the police evidence against you and explain your version of events to the magistrate.

For information on how to plead not guilty, see Pleading not guilty.

Scenario 2 — How to plead 'not guilty'

The judge asks 'How do you plead today, Mr Flynn?'; Mr Flynn replies 'Not guilty, Your Honour.'; the judge then asks 'Have you had any legal advice?' and Mr Flynn replies 'Yes, I would like to represent myself, Your Honour.'; the judge responds 'Very well, we will set it for a hearing in 6 weeks. You will be expected to appear for a summary review on Tuesday, 18 June and the hearing date is set for 10 July.'

I have plead not guilty, what happens now?

If your matter can be heard in the magistrates court and proceeds to a trial, the magistrate will then set a date for you to appear at a mention called the summary callover. At the summary callover, the matter will then be listed for trial.

The prosecutor must provide you with a full brief of evidence within five weeks of the summary callover.

If your matter can not be heard in the magistrates court and instead needs to be heard in the district or Supreme Court (seek legal advice about this) then the magistrate will then set a date for you to appear at a mention called the committal callover.

You must seek legal advice if your matter is listed for committal callover.

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