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Where Will Your Matter Be Heard?

When a person is charged with a criminal offence and they receive a notice to attend court, they will usually be required to come to the court that is nearest to where the offence allegedly occurred. In many cases this is unproblematic because the offence is generally alleged to have occurred near where the accused lives. However, sometimes a person will be required to attend a court that is a long way from where they are located. This may be because they were away from home when the matter occurred, because they have moved, or because there is no court close to where they live. This article outlines what happens when a person is required to attend a court that is in an inconvenient location for them.

In come circumstances, it may be necessary for either the defence or the prosecution to make an application to have a matter moved from one court to a court in another location. This could be done for a number of reasons.

Where the defendant lives

The defence may apply to have a matter moved to a court that is easy for the defendant to get to. This is particularly likely to occur when the defendant has indicated that they are going to plead guilty to the charges. In this situation, witnesses are not required to attend and the matter can be finalised anywhere that it is possible for the accused and the police to be.

In some situations, it may be possible for the accused to attend by phone or video link from a remote location. However, if the offence is one that carries imprisonment, the court is unlikely to allow this. If the accused is sentenced to imprisonment, they will need to be taken into custody from the court.

If the defendant lives far away from where a matter is listed, it may be possible for them to finalise the matter on an ex parte basis. This means that the matter can be dealt with in their absence if they have indicated in writing that they are pleading guilty.

Where the witnesses live

When a defendant is pleading not guilty, the location of the court that finalises the matter will depend not only on where the defendant is located but also where the witnesses are located. Prosecution can generally bring witnesses to the court where they are required to testify. However, in some situations, a matter’s location may be changed due to where witnesses are. This may be because there are two courts that are equally accessible to the defendant but one is a lot easier for witnesses to get to than the other.

Where the Case is High Profile

When the defendant or victim in a criminal matter is well known, or has connections to the justice system is a particular town (for example, a lawyer or a police officer), it may be appropriate to transfer the matter to a location where the judges, magistrates and lawyers do not know the person.

This is more likely in smaller communities where the witnesses, defence, prosecution and potential jurors are all likely to know each other and may have a prejudice in the proceedings.

Bush Courts

In some remote Northern Territory, Western Australian and Queensland communities there is no permanent court. Instead lawyers, judges and magistrates visit remote communities for a period, generally between one day and one week, every month or every few months. This is what’s known as  Bush Court.

During the period bush court is sitting in a particular community, the visiting Magistrate hears criminal matters and domestic violence order applications involving people from the community. Due to the large volume of criminal matters to be dealt with in many communities, bush court sittings can be very rushed.

The principle behind the Bush Court is that everyone should have access to justice. The Bush Court proceedings are normally held in rooms attached to the local police station or the local council office. In many communities, interpreters are used for the majority of the defendants. Different communities have different levels of access to non-custodial sentences. For example, not all communities can offer Community-Based Orders or Supervised Orders that require supervision by Corrections. This means that the sentencing outcomes that the courts can deliver are limited.

There is no civil equivalent of bush court. Clients involved in civil matters or child protection matters must generally travel to the nearest permanent court to have those matters dealt with.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter please contact Armstrong Legal on 1300 038 223 or send us an email.

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