Minor criminal charges, restraint order applications, traffic offences, restricted licence applications and bail applications are heard in the Magistrates Court.
Following your arrest and depending on the circumstances, the Police may release you on bail. If the Police decide not to grant you bail and you are held in custody you have the right to apply to the Magistrates Court for bail. When you apply for bail you are asking the Court to release you on certain conditions, pending the hearing of the case against you. If you do not have a lawyer, you can ask to see the Legal Aid Commission Duty Solicitor, who may be able to apply for bail on your behalf.
Appearing as a result of a summons or after bail has been granted
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 in your summons or bail document. If you do not, then the Magistrate will probably issue a warrant for your arrest. 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.
Arriving at court
Check the "Court Lists" in the foyer of the Court for the number of the court 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 court in which you are to appear or wait outside near the door of the courtroom so you can hear if your name is called. If you have a lawyer make sure that they are at court and then follow their directions.
When your name is called
When your name is called, go into the court or if you are in court, 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.
Adjournments and pleas
If this is your first time at court about a charge, you can ask that the case be adjourned without plea for a couple of weeks while you get advice or decide what to do. If you decide not to seek an adjournment the charge will probably be read out and you will be asked how you plead, that is, guilty or not guilty.
If you plead guilty the Magistrate will ask the Police Prosecutor to read out his or her version of the facts. If you disagree with anything that is said tell the Magistrate. 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 tell the Magistrate about your personal and financial circumstances, and the circumstances of the offence, which may lessen the penalty that is imposed. This is called a plea in mitigation of sentence. 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.
Pleading not guilty
When you plead not guilty it is usual for the matter to be adjourned to another day for hearing. This gives both you and the prosecution the chance to summons any witnesses to the Court for the hearing of the case. On the hearing day the prosecution will attempt to prove its case by calling witnesses to give evidence. The Police Prosecutor will ask each witness questions. You will then have an opportunity to also ask each witness questions. This is called cross-examination and will be conducted by your lawyer if you have one. When all of the witnesses for the prosecution case have given evidence you may then give evidence yourself and call your own witnesses to give evidence in support of your case. The Police Prosecutor may also cross-examine you and each of your witnesses.
The Magistrate will then consider the evidence and determine whether the prosecution has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are found guilty, you, or your lawyer, can then make a plea in mitigation before the Magistrate sentences you. If you are found not guilty, you may then leave court without any penalty being imposed.
- Justices Act 1959 (Tas)