A Magistrate is called “Your Honour” and it is necessary to stand when being addressed by the Magistrate or talking to the Magistrate.
The prosecution of most summary and less serious offences are handled by the police prosecutors, attached to the local Criminal Justice Section.
Major indictable or more serious offences that are going through the committal stage are handled by the (office of) the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) (see ‘COURTS’ section). In country regions even these matters are prosecuted by the police prosecution section.
Commonwealth prosecutions, such as Centrelink or taxation matters are handled by the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions.
There are some other authorities who handle the prosecutions of certain matters in the Magistrates Court. Examples of these are the RSPCA or council matters where private solicitors are often briefed to handle the matter.
A person will be required to attend the court if they have been arrested and bailed to appear at the court. The bail papers will provide which court and the date and time of the hearing. A person who has been served a summons will either be required to attend the court or have a solicitor attend on their behalf. (Those arrested must attend in person, with or without a solicitor).
Some summons allow for the recipient to endorse a plea of guilty on the notice, with an opportunity to provide a brief explanation. This must be signed and witnessed and returned to the court well before the court date. These are generally simple traffic matters.
The summons will be either a ‘Complaint and Summons’ or ‘Information and Summons’ and will list the offence(s) charged and the section of the law which applies.
The first appearance is to either to answer the summons or in the case of an arrest, in answer to the bail. It is unusual to have the matter finalised on the first occasion. The court will allow the accused an opportunity to have the matter put off allowing them to seek legal advice and consider what they intend to do with the matter. You are entitled to have a solicitor present with you. The prosecution will usually provide your solicitor with a Summary of Evidence. This is an important document and provides a brief run-down of what the police allege the circumstances of the case are. This document should be read through very carefully as it will be the basis of what the prosecution tells the court if a guilty plea is entered.
If the matter is to be contested there is likely to be several more hearings before the matter proceeds to trial.
Before a trial is listed in the Magistrates Court a Pre-Trial conference will occur. The conference is a hearing in court and before a magistrate. The court will attempt to resolve the matter without proceeding to trial. If a trial is listed the court will want to know if any of the prosecution’s case can be agreed and if any evidence can be consented to and presented to the court without proof. The court will want to know how many days the trial should be set for.
If the matter is a more serious offence and is classified as major indictable, the matter cannot finalise in the Magistrates Court. It is listed in that court only for the purpose of a committal process and must resolve in a higher court, contested or otherwise. With major indictable offences, the first court date is merely to set times for the committal process. A declarations date is listed usually in about six to eight weeks ahead. Often a further date, about four weeks thereafter is listed for a date to answer the charge.