Committal Hearing


What is a committal hearing?

A committal hearing ultimately involves a decision by a magistrate as to whether the prosecution evidence is capable of satisfying a jury, properly instructed, beyond reasonable doubt that you have committed an indictable offence. If the magistrate does not believe the evidence would satisfy a jury, the magistrate will dismiss the charges at the committal hearing. If the magistrate believes the evidence would satisfy a jury then you will be committed for trial. Generally, you will be only permitted to cross examine witnesses about certain issues that have been told to the court. A committal hearing is not a full rehearsal of the trial and is likely to last only a fraction of the time.

At your committal hearing we have three major tasks:

  • To attempt to have the charges dismissed by a magistrate
  • To discover all the evidence against you
  • To find out further details surrounding the case so that you can prepare for your trial

What will happen at a committal hearing?

At the committal: The police case

At the committal hearing, a solicitor employed by the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) will appear for the police. They will call the witnesses that are required to give evidence. When the witnesses first give evidence, they are giving “evidence in chief”. Your solicitor may object to questions asked by the DPP solicitor in certain circumstances.

After the DPP solicitor has finished asking each witness questions your solicitor may cross examine the witness. After your solicitor has finished cross examining the witness, the DPP solicitor will be able to clarify any answers in re-examination. After all witnesses have given evidence, the DPP solicitor will close the police case.

At the committal: The magistrate can dismiss the charge after the police case

After all the prosecution evidence has been given at the committal hearing, the magistrate must decide whether the prosecution evidence is capable of satisfying a jury, properly instructed, beyond reasonable doubt that you have committed an indictable offence. If the magistrate does not believe the evidence would satisfy a jury, the magistrate will dismiss the charges. If the magistrate believes the evidence would satisfy a jury, the hearing continues.

At the committal: A warning before you give evidence

Before you give evidence at the committal hearing, the magistrate must give you a warning and an opportunity to answer the charge. The magistrate will give you a warning that you do not have to give evidence and any evidence you give may be used against you at your trial.

At the committal: The defence case

It is very rare for an accused to give evidence or call witnesses at a committal hearing. If you decide to give evidence or call a witness to give evidence, then the DPP solicitor may question you or your witness about any issue relevant to your case. They are not restricted in what they can cross examine you about. Unless you are very confident that the magistrate will dismiss the charge against you, there is very little to gain from giving evidence. At your trial, the crown would look at what you said at the committal hearing and plan their cross-examination of you.

At the committal: The magistrate can dismiss the charge after the defence case

After all the evidence is given at the committal hearing, the magistrate must decide whether in their opinion having regard to all the evidence there is a reasonable prospect that a reasonable jury, properly instructed, would convict you of an indictable offence. If the magistrate does not believe the evidence would satisfy a jury, the magistrate will dismiss the charges. If the magistrate believes the evidence would satisfy a jury, the magistrate will commit you to the District Court for trial.

 

WHERE TO NEXT?

If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

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