Fact sheet – Going to the magistrates court

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What if I need to get bail?

If you are arrested in relation to a crime, the Police may either give you a summons or hold you in custody. A summons is a notice to attend Court at a later date for a hearing about the crime. If the Police decide to hold you in custody, you have the right to apply for bail at the Magistrates Court.

Applying for bail is asking the Court to release you until a hearing date when your criminal charge will be dealt with. If you do not have a lawyer, you can ask to see the Legal Aid lawyer, who may be able to apply for bail on your behalf. If you are granted bail, you will be given certain conditions to follow. It is important to follow these conditions and to ensure you return to Court for your hearing.

What do I do if I get a summons?

If you have received a summons, or you are required to appear under the terms of Police or Court bail, you must go to Court at the time specified. If you do not the Magistrate will probably issue a warrant for your arrest. Not appearing at Court when you have been required to is a crime in itself. You should get legal advice as soon as you become aware of the need to go to court. You can ring the Legal Aid Telephone Advice Service on 1300 366 611 for initial advice and/or referral to a lawyer.

What do I need to do before the day of Court?

It is really important to get legal advice as soon as you can. If you plan on pleading guilty at Court you should prepare a ‘Plea in Mitigation’. A Plea in Mitigation tells the Magistrate about your personal and financial circumstances and any other relevant circumstances at the time of the offence. These may be taken into consideration and may lessen the penalty the Magistrate gives you. If you have a lawyer he or she will do this for you. If you do not have a lawyer and are representing yourself, you should prepare a Plea in Mitigation prior to attending Court, see our plea in mitigation brochure.

What do I do when I arrive at Court?

Check the "Court Lists" in the foyer of the Court for the number of the courtroom in which you are appearing and the time you are to appear. If you cannot find your name or need help, ask the court staff to assist you. You can either go into the courtroom and sit down quietly or wait in the foyer near the door of the courtroom so you can hear when your name is called. If you have a lawyer make sure that they are at Court and then follow their directions.

What do I do when my name is called?

When your name is called, go into the courtroom or if you are already there, stand up. The court clerk will tell you where to stand. If you need to talk to the Magistrate call him or her "Your Honour". You will be asked if you are the person named in the complaint or charge.

What if I haven’t seen a lawyer?

If you have not been to Court about the charge/s before, you can ask that the case be adjourned without plea while you get advice from a lawyer. Your hearing may be adjourned to a new date a couple of weeks later to give time to prepare. When you return to Court on the new date, or if you decide not to seek an adjournment, the charge will probably be read out and you will be asked if you want to plead guilty or not guilty.

What happens if I plead ‘guilty’?

If you plead guilty the Magistrate will ask the Police Prosecutor to read out his or her version of the facts relating to your involvement in the crime. If you disagree with anything that is said, tell the Magistrate as your case may then be adjourned for what is called a Disputed Facts Hearing. If you accept what the Police Prosecutor has said you will be shown a copy of your prior convictions. If any details are incorrect, tell the Magistrate. You will then be given an opportunity to read out your Plea in Mitigation.

What happens if I plead ‘not guilty’?

When you plead ‘not guilty’ it is usual for the matter to be rescheduled to another day. This gives you the chance to prepare for the hearing.

At the hearing the Prosecution may have witnesses. The Prosecutor will ask each witness questions. You can then ask each witness questions. This is called cross-examination and will be done by your lawyer if you have one. When all of the Prosecution’s witnesses have spoken you may then give evidence and have your own witnesses. The Police Prosecutor may also cross-examine you and your witnesses.

The Magistrate will then consider all the details of the case. For you to be found guilty the Prosecution has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are found guilty, you or your lawyer can make a Plea in Mitigation before the Magistrate sentences you. If you are found not guilty you may then leave Court without any penalty.

Last updated: 12-July-2021