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Appeals are a key component of the legal system. While legal representatives will work to achieve the best outcome the first time around, sometimes it’s necessary to appeal a decision. Appeals can be made against a conviction (a finding of guilt) or against the sentence imposed after a conviction, or against both. This section contains information about the various types of appeals concerning criminal matters.

Appeals In The ACT

When a party files an appeal, they are asking the court to reassess a matter that was dealt with in a lower court, such as the Magistrates Court, or in some cases by another government entity. A party may lodge an appeal for various reasons including:

  • to seek a more lenient or a harsher sentence;
  • to overturn a verdict because there was an error of law or an error of fact.

There are different types of appeals an appellant can make:

  • appeal against the sentence;
  • appeal against the verdict, which can result in an acquittal or a rehearing of a matter;

The main courts that handle appeals are:

The court hierarchy

To understand how the appeal process works, you must first understand the court hierarchy. An appeal can only be lodged with a higher court. For example, an appellant can appeal a decision of the Magistrates Court to the Supreme Court. The reverse is not possible.

The structure is as follows (from highest court to lowest court):

The Magistrates Court

The Magistrates Court is the lowest court in the ACT. Under its criminal jurisdiction, it deals with summary (more minor and common) offences and certain indictable (more serious) offences that can be tried summarily. Most criminal offences in the ACT are summary offences and therefore will be dealt with by the Magistrates Court.

The Magistrates Court also conducts committal proceedings to determine whether or not indictable offences are to be committed to the Supreme Court. Magistrates Court cases are heard by a single magistrate.

ACT Supreme Court

Unlike other jurisdictions, the ACT does not have a District Court. The ACT Supreme Court deals with indictable offences and hears appeals against sentence or conviction from the Magistrates Court. These are usually heard by a single judge.

ACT Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal is the ACT’s highest court for criminal matters and operates as a separate division within the Supreme Court.

A person who has been found guilty by a jury (or judge if the trial was by judge alone) or who plead guilty and has been sentenced by a Supreme Court judge can appeal to the Court of Appeal.

There is no absolute right of appeal and, generally speaking, an error needs to be established for the appeal application to be approved by the court.

The High Court of Australia

The High Court is the highest court in the Australian legal system. It interprets Commonwealth legislation and decides cases of special federal importance including challenges to the constitutional validity of laws. The High Court of Australia also hears appeals from the highest courts of each state and territory. However, appeals can only take place if the High Court grants special leave to appeal. If special leave to appeal has been granted, the appeal will be heard by five to seven judges of the High Court.

If you require legal advice about appeals or any other legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Andrew Fraser - Managing Associate - Canberra

This article was written by Andrew Fraser - Managing Associate - Canberra

Andrew works in the areas of criminal law and traffic law, providing practical advice in all of his clients’ matters. Andrew has, over many years, developed positive working relationships with prosecutors, magistrates and judges. His no-nonsense approach means he has a reputation for putting forward the best case possible for clients. Andrew has won many matters for his clients, including...

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