The Court Process
The court process is often confusing and stressful to those who are unfamiliar with it.
The Local Court is where most people have the majority of their traffic and criminal matters dealt with and the following is a short summary of the process. The process can be quite complicated and demanding. If you wish to get the best result it is always advisable to speak to a solicitor and if necessary seek representation.
Proceedings commenced by way of a Court attendance Notice:
When you receive a court attendance Notice it will list the date and time and the court at which you are required to attend.
The date on the court attendance notice is often termed the first mention date and a number of things could occur:
- You can ask for the court to adjourn the case for a period of time to enable you to get legal advice or for any other legitimate purpose.
- You can enter a plea of guilty and ask the court to deal with the matter if you are ready for that to be done. It may be that on entering a plea of guilty that you wish an adjournment to obtain references and other evidence to assist you in your plea, on a request for an adjournment the court has the discretion to agree and allow it. However, like all discretions, the court could require you to present your plea.
- You can enter a plea of not guilty and ask for a hearing date.
If you plan to enter a plea of not guilty the matter will be listed for a hearing date sometime in the future when the prosecution will be required to bring it’s witnesses to give evidence as will you. On a plea of not guilty on the first mention date or subsequent mention date, the court will set the matter down for a hearing at some future date. I have observed many people arguing with Magistrates and Registrars of the Court demanding their matter be heard on a plea of not guilty on the first mention date this will not happen.
In more serious matters the court on the first mention date will set a timetable for the police to prepare and serve on you what is commonly known as the brief of evidence in essence this is a written form of the police case and should contain all the witness statements and evidence that the police intend to rely upon at the hearing. The court will set a date for the service of the brief of evidence on you or your lawyer and then what is commonly called a return date when you are expected to appear and confirm your plea if one has been entered or enter a plea if one has not been entered. On some occasions, the brief is not served on time and the prosecution or the defence may ask for more time and a further return date. It is always advisable to have the full prosecution case on hand before setting a matter for hearing in order to best avoid being taken by surprise and in order to carefully prepare a defence.
In situations where you have been arrested and refused bail by the police, you will often be put before the court at the earliest opportunity as you are being held in custody. Often in this appearance, you can make a bail application. Due to ever-changing and strict bail laws, you should seek legal advice and have a properly prepared bail application for if rejected you may not have a right to make another application. Depending on the facts of the alleged offences and your personal matters relevant to a bail application your lawyer may suggest you not making a bail application on the first appearance and may want time to get as many relevant matters addressed before making a bail application to the court.