What Court Will Hear Your Matter?
The vast majority of adult criminal matters are finalised in the Local Court. More serious offences are dealt with by the higher courts, which in New South Wales are the District Court and Supreme Court. When juveniles are charged with criminal offences, these are generally dealt with by the Children’s Court. This article will set out which offences are dealt with in which courts and what can be expected of the court process in each jurisdiction.
Summary, Indictable or Strictly Indictable?
Summary, indictable and strictly indictable are terms that are used to classify different types of criminal offences. Summary offences are common, less serious offences (such as driving offences) that are finalised in the Local Court. Indictable offences are offences can be heard summarily (in the Local Court) or on indictment (in a higher court). Strictly indictable offences are serious offence that can only be dealt with in the higher courts.
All criminal matters start in the Local Court. Depending on whether the offence is indictable or strictly indictable, the matter may be committed to the District Court, or in some cases, the Supreme Court.
Summary offences will be finalised in the Local Court. On rare occasions summary offences may be finalised in the District Court where the defendant is also charged with either an indictable or strictly indictable offence, which is being tried in the District Court. In that case, the summary offence may be dealt with together with the indicatable or strictly indictable offence.
Some examples of summary offences are:
- custody of a knife in a public place;
- negligent driving;
- mid-range drink driving;
- possessing prohibited drugs
Indictable Offences can be finalised in the Local, District or Supreme Court. Indictable offences will usually be heard in the Local Court, unless the prosecution or the defence elects to have the matter determined in the District or Supreme Court.
It is usually very rare for a defendant to choose to have their matter prosecuted in the District Court or Supreme Court as opposed to the Local Court. This is because the maximum penalties people face in the District Court are typically greater than if they were finalised in the Local Court (because the Local Court has a jurisdictional limit of two years imprisonment for any one offence, and five years’ imprisonment for any number of offences).
Indictable offences are listed in Table 1 and Table 2 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW).
If the offence is a ‘Table 1’ offence, the prosecution or the defendant can elect to finalise the matter in a higher court.
If the offence is a ‘Table 2’ offence, the prosecution can elect to prosecute the matter in a higher court.
Some examples of indictable offences include:
- common assault;
- assault occasioning actual bodily harm;
- destroying/damaging property; and
- indecent assault.
Strictly Indictable Offences
There are some offences that must be finalised in the District Court. These are called strictly indictable offences. Generally speaking, strictly indictable offences are very serious. Some examples include:
- supplying drugs (over the commercial quantity);
- dangerous driving occasioning death;
- sexual intercourse without consent;
- manufacturing prohibited drugs;
- armed robbery; and
- money laundering.
What Offences are Heard by the Supreme Court?
Generally speaking, any indictable matter (where an election to prosecute in higher court has been made), or strictly indictable matter, will be tried in the District Court, rather than the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court can hear indictable or strictly indictable matters upon the application by the defence and/or prosecution.
The Supreme Court also has original jurisdiction over certain very serious offences (such as murder and treason). These matters must be handled by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court usually only deals with the following type of charges:
- large commercial drug supply/importation;
- war crimes;
- any other offence for which the maximum penalty is life imprisonment and where either the Director of Public Prosecutions (Cth) or the Director of Public Prosecutions of NSW has formed the opinion that the imposition of a life sentence may be appropriate.
If you have any questions about court appearances or any other legal matter contact us on 1300 038 223 or send us an email.