When you receive a charge from the police, the first thing to identify is what stream of the Court is your charge is listed in.
- Summary Stream– for cases that will begin and end in the Magistrates’ Court. Typical examples are burglary, thefts (not exceeding $100,000), driving offences, minor dishonesty offences and some sexual offences. All traffic infringement contested matters are heard in the Magistrates’ Court.
- Committal Stream– for cases that are more serious and will likely proceed to trial in either the Supreme Court of the County Court. The law states certain serious offences must proceed through the committal stream, for example rape, armed robbery, aggravated home invasion, murder or where the amount involved exceeds $100,000 (eg: an alleged fraud exceeding $100,000).
This document provides an outline of the standard Court hearings for a case proceeding through the Committal Stream of the Magistrates’ Court.
The first hearing date is all about the administration of your case. If an accused person is arrested and held in custody, a filing hearing must occur within 7 days of the charges being filed. If an accused person is charged and bailed, the filing hearing must occur within 28 days of the charge being filed with the Court.
At the filing hearing the Court will set the following timetable:
- Date for service of the Hand-up Brief – this is the date that the police are required to provide the brief of evidence to you or your solicitors. The hand-up brief contains a summary of the allegations, the witness statements, copies of exhibits and a transcript of your record of interview. In some cases, the law does not allow release of certain evidence and your lawyer will need to attend at the Office of Public Prosecutions office or the police station to view restricted evidence. For this reason, you need to engage specialist lawyers early on in your case.
- Committal mention date – this is the first hearing date your case will have. You will be provided with the date for the committal mention during the filing hearing.
The committal mention is the first hearing where the evidence in your case may be discussed. Importantly, you should not expect any witnesses to attend Court for this hearing. In advance of the committal mention your lawyer is required to file a document called a Form 32 that details whether you intend to plead guilty or not guilty to some or all charges.
Where you are intending to plead not guilty, your lawyer will discuss with you whether you should seek leave of the Court to cross examine witnesses at a committal hearing. If you decide to seek a committal hearing, your lawyer will make an application for cross examination at your committal mention and outline which witnesses are sought and why in the Form 32.
If you are pleading guilty to the charge, that can occur at the committal mention. Subject to which charges you are pleading guilty to, the guilty plea may be heard in either the Magistrates’, County or Supreme Court.
Preparation for Committal Hearing
This is an important time for your lawyers to prepare your case.
The delay between committal mention and committal may seem lengthy to you, but your lawyers will consider this a short timeframe.
Subpoenas may need to be issued to defence witnesses, reports may be required from expert witnesses and it may be that you provide a list of possible witnesses or evidence that requires investigation.
Further disclosure about the conduct of the case will be sought, which might include accessing hospital records for alleged victims or police notes about the conduct of the investigation against you.
A contested committal hearing is an opportunity for your lawyer to cross examine witnesses and test the scope of the police evidence against you. A committal hearing is a critical point in the case where the strength of the case against you is often clarified and tested.
At the conclusion of the cross examination and any submissions from your lawyer, a Magistrate will decide if there is evidence of sufficient weight that a properly instructed jury could convict you at trial. This is a low threshold test and most cases proceed to trial in either the County or Supreme Courts. At this stage you are formally committed for trial. The Court will ask you to enter your plea of not guilty at this stage and the matter will then be transferred to a higher jurisdiction for trial.
What do I do now?
To ensure the best chance of a successful defence, it is important to get in contact with an expert criminal lawyer as soon as possible. At Emma Turnbull Lawyers, we have experienced criminal defence lawyers who can assist you in defending this charge.
Contact our office today to speak to an accredited criminal law specialist, on (03) 9077 4834 or at firstname.lastname@example.org