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Most people outside of the criminal justice system would not have even heard of committal hearings until the last few weeks.
As part of a suite of changes to the practice and procedure in the NSW Criminal Justice System, the government announced that they were considering doing away with committal hearings entirely. Meanwhile, Eddie and Moses Obeid have finally waived their right to committal hearing after a 4 month fight to delay it taking place.
Committal hearings occur in matters that are destined to be resolved in a trial before either the Supreme or District Court. A magistrate can “discharge” a defendant if the magistrate does not think there is a reasonable chance that a jury would convict the accused.
Defendants can argue the case based purely upon the written evidence and exhibits served by police (a “paper committal”) or else make what are called 91/93 submissions, which seek that a witness be compelled to give evidence at the committal hearing. The other, most common, option is to waive committal and go straight to trial.
Whilst defendants are from time to time discharged at committal, these hearings are often useful as a way to expose weaknesses in the Crown case at an early stage, and can often be the first step in the negotiation of the matter.
What is more problematic is that these hearings can take up significant resources for all parties as well as the court. Moreover, the significant delay they cause are a large part of the reason for the constant increases in the amount of time it takes to resolve criminal prosecutions.
The government argues that only a very small percentage of people who do not waive their right to a committal hearing are actually discharged. Those who favour committal hearings point to the number of matters that reach negotiated outcomes after the committal process, or where crucial evidence that should have emerged at an earlier stage comes to light during committal hearings.
Many of the changes proposed by the government are controversial, and the changes around committals are only one of them. In the meantime, Eddie and Moses Obeid have taken the expedient course. It remains to be seen how their matter will be conducted once it is brought for trial.
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