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Committal Hearings in the ACT

In the ACT, a person who has been charged with a serious indictable offence must go through a committal hearing before the matter can be finalised in the Supreme Court. A committal hearing is a pre-trial procedure that is held in the Magistrates Court or Children’s Court. In the ACT, committal hearings are governed by the Criminal Procedure Act 1986.

Which offences go through a committal hearing?

Any criminal offence that is to be finalised on indictment must first go through a committal hearing. In the ACT, the Supreme Court is the only court that hears matters prosecuted on indictment. 

Some indictable offence can only be heard on indictment, while others can be heard summarily when both parties consent to this. 

Serious indictable offences (for example, murder and manslaughter) are always finalised in the Supreme Court. These matters must go through committal procedures. 

Less serious indictable offences (for example, assault and stealing) are often finalised in the Magistrates Court. For this to occur, both parties must agree. When this happens, there is no committal hearing. When these offences are dealt with on indictment, they must go through a committal first.

What is a committal hearing?

A committal hearing is a pre-trial procedure to test the strength of the prosecution case. Prosecution witnesses are questioned by the defence, and the defence may call witnesses if it chooses to do so.

If the magistrate is satisfied that the case is sufficiently strong that a jury could find the accused guilty, they will commit the matter to the Supreme Court. If the magistrate does not consider the case strong enough to support a conviction, they will dismiss the matter.


An indictable matter will go through a number of procedural stages in the Magistrates Court before it reaches the committal hearing stage. These steps are governed by section 55 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986.

First, the prosecution will prepare a brief of evidence and serve it on the defence. The brief of evidence is a copy of all the evidence that the Crown intends to rely on against the accused.

Next, a charge certificate must be filed in the Magistrates Court and served on the defence. This confirms which of the charges will be proceeded with.

One or more case conferences will then be held. A case conference is an opportunity for defence and prosecution to try to negotiate the resolution of the matter. This may become possible because the accused decides to plead guilty, because the prosecution agrees to withdraw the charges, or because the parties agree that one charge will be replaced with another charge. 

At the committal hearing, the accused will enter a plea. After the magistrate has reviewed the evidence, the magistrate will either commit the matter to the Supreme Court or dismiss the matter.

What is the purpose of committal hearings?

The committal hearing process exists to ensure that weak or vexatious prosecutions are eliminated at an early stage and do not waste the time of the higher courts. Committals give the defence an opportunity to test the prosecution case and to try out possible arguments before the trial.

Committal hearings can also save the Supreme Court time when the matter goes to trial.

Advantages and disadvantaged of the defence calling evidence

There are both advantages and disadvantages to the accused calling evidence at a committal hearing.

Calling defence witnesses can allow the defence to explore and test possible lines of argument. This may expose weaknesses in the prosecution case, which may lead to the matter being dismissed at committal stage.

However, calling evidence in an accused’s defence at the committal may alert the prosecution to the defence that will be run at the trial, which may disadvantage the accused.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal. 

Fernanda Dahlstrom

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

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