Our last blog post explained the Magistrates Court procedures. If your matter is to be dealt with by a higher court i.e. District or Supreme, then your matter will take a different course than it would otherwise take in the Magistrates Court. So here’s a quick guide on the process:
Committal Mention / Committal call over
In Queensland, criminal offences are classed in different ways. Some offences may be able to be finalised in the Magistrates Court but some offences must be committed to a higher court (District or Supreme Court) before it can be listed for a trial or a sentence.
When a matter is referred to a ‘committal matter’ it means the matter, due to the nature of the charge, must be committed to a higher court. As such these matters are listed in a committal call-over and referred to as a committal mention.
Under certain circumstances, it may be possible for a committal matter to be finalised in the Magistrates Court and you should speak to your legal representative as to whether this is possible.
The first time the matter is listed for a Committal mention / Committal call over the Magistrate will order a Brief of Evidence to be disclosed. This contains all the evidence the police have against you.
Committal with Cross-Examination
In cases where the legal practitioner may wish to make a no-case submission due to weak evidence the matter will be listed for a committal hearing. There is also the possibility for legal practitioner’s to make application to cross-examine witnesses at a committal hearing, but there are strict guidelines that govern this process.
Full Hand Up
Given some offences cannot be finalised in the Magistrates Court and will need to proceed to a higher court for finalisation. One of the processes where this is done is a full hand up.
A full hand up is generally a straightforward proceeding and is commonly held when a defendant is in custody. The legal representative consents to the matter being committed to the higher court without the presiding Magistrate considering the evidence.
The Presiding Magistrate will then addresses the defendant and provide them the opportunity to enter a plea if they wish to. The matter will then be committed to the appropriate court on a date to be fixed.
This process is usually conducted by way of a registry committal document without the need for the defendant to attend a court proceeding.
The matter will the take up to six months to enter the higher court. In this time your lawyer will engage a Barrister to assist in representing you once the matter proceeds to the District or Supreme Court.
Once the matter is ready to be heard in the higher court it will be listed for an Indictment Presentation. This will be the first mention of the matter in the District or Supreme Court. If you have a lawyer they will appear on your behalf and generally you will not need to attend.
Any further mentions in the higher court (i.e. District or Supreme Court) may often be referred to as a review.
A plea of guilty in a higher court (i.e. District or Supreme Court) may often be referred to a sentence.
See above plea of guilty explanation.
A trial is a proceeding in the District or Supreme Court where a defendant pleads not guilty. Trials in Queensland are almost always conducted before a judge and a jury of 12 people selected from the community.
Though the format of a trial will generally remain the same, each will change slightly because of the number of charges, the number of witnesses and the types of evidence that will be relied upon.
The main players in a trial are:
Judge: who presides over the court and is responsible for conducting the trial according to law and providing detections to the jury as to the law they must be applied.
Jury: 12 members from the community. It is the jury who will make the decision whether someone is innocent or guilty after hearing all the evidence in the matter.
Defendant / Accused: the person (or persons) who have been charged with a criminal offence. In Australia every defendant charged with a criminal offence is deemed to be innocent until proven guilty and it is for the Crown to prove guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Crown Prosecutor: is the barrister responsible for running the case on behalf of the State of Queensland. In Queensland most matters are prosecuted by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutors. Commonwealth offences are prosecuted by the Commonwealth Office of Public Prosecutors.
Defence Counsel: is the barrister responsible for running the case on behalf of the defendant.
The general format of a trial is:-
Plea entered: The defendant enters their plea of not guilty.
Jury empanelled: 12 jurors are selected
Opening address (Crown): This is where the Crown prosecutor outlines their case to the jury and provides a summary of the evidence they expect the jury will hear.
Examination-in-chief (Crown): The Crown call their witnesses and ask a series of questions. These questions are open ended questions that are designed to allow the witness to provide their version of events to the jury.
Cross examination (Defence): Defence Counsel will then have the opportunity to ask the witness questions in cross-examination. These questions are pointed and are intended to allow for the evidence to be tested. The defence barrister will put the defendant’s case or defence forward to the witness to allow them to comment.
Re-examination (Crown): The Crown may then re-examine the witness if they believe that clarification or explanation is required due to something that arose during the course of cross-examination.
This process repeats for every Crown witness and evidence such as photographs or documents may be tendered and shown to the court through witnesses.
The defendant is then asked whether they wish to give or call evidence. A defendant has the right to silence and is under no obligation to give or call evidence.
If the defendant does decide to give/ call evidence then defence Counsel opens the case for the defendant and the process for calling witnesses is the same.
Closing addresses (Crown and Defence): The Crown and the Defence then close their cases.
Summing up: The Judge then sums up the evidence and provides directions to the jury.
Jury retire: The jury then goes and discusses the case and come to a conclusion. They may reach a conclusion quickly or it may take some time. The jury can re-listen or view the evidence tendered during the trial or ask the Judge clarifying questions.
Jury return: The jury then returns and will deliver their verdict of either guilty or not guilty.