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The criminal court system

The police investigate if laws have been broken. They can charge you if they believe you have broken the law. The police will tell you the date on which you must first appear before the court for your charges.

It is then up to the court to hear the evidence and decide if you are guilty and what the penalty should be.

Many cases can now be dealt with by the magistrates court. The magistrate decides both guilt and penalty. In the higher courts (district court, Supreme Court) the jury decides if you are guilty and the judge decides the penalty.

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  1. You are considered innocent until proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt

    This means it is up to the police to give evidence to the court to prove you are guilty. If you plead not guilty, you or your lawyer can defend the charge. If you plead guilty, the court only hears a summary of the evidence and finds the case proved. It then decides the penalty.

  2. It is an adversarial system

    This means the police and the defence (you and your lawyer if you have one) are opposing sides (adversaries). Each side may give evidence to the court. When deciding if you are guilty or not, the court will think about only the evidence and what is said in court. The court has no power to investigate further.

I've been charged with an offence — what happens now?

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This flowchart(PDF, 105KB) explains what happens after being charged with an offence.

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