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Going to Court in NSW

This is a brief guide for those who are appearing before the criminal courts in New South Wales for the first time. It is important to remember that there can be very real and serious consequences if you fail to act appropriately in court.

Understand the charge/s and know the maximum penalties

It is important to be clear about what offences you have been charged with and what the maximum penalty is for each of them. The penalty that the court ultimately decides to impose will often be much less than the maximum penalty. However, it has the power to impose any sentence up to the maximum under the legislation. The maximum penalty may be a fine or a period of imprisonment.

Know how to plead

In a criminal matter, you can either plead guilty and proceed to be sentenced or plead not guilty and proceed to a contested hearing. At the first mention, you will generally be asked by the Magistrate how you intend to plead. You may or may not enter your pleas at the first mention.

Pleading not guilty

If you did not commit the offence or have a legal defence (such as self-defence) or a factual defence (such as an alibi) you should enter a plea of not guilty. This means that your matter will not be finalised at the first mention. Your matter will be listed for a hearing date where you will be required to give evidence and call witnesses in your defence. Depending on how busy the court is and how complicated your matter, this may be several months away.

Pleading guilty

If you committed the offence and do not have a legal or factual defence, you should generally plead guilty. If you are pleading guilty, your matter may be finalised on the first mention, or it may be adjourned to another date for finalisation. If there is supporting material such as character references or medical reports to gather, you should adjourn your matter long enough to allow you to do this.

When your matter is finalised, you or your lawyer will be given an opportunity by the Magistrate to provide an explanation for your offending and to make submissions in your defence.

Be Prepared when going to court

Make sure you are well prepared when attending court. If the court is to take into account your circumstances, it will require documentation and evidence. If you have material to tender, such as character referencesletters of apology or certificates of completion of programmes, make sure you bring three copies of these to court so that the court, the prosecution and the defence can all retain a copy.

General Etiquette when going to court

It is important to conduct yourself appropriately when inside a courtroom. Failure to do so can result in being ejected from the court, or being charged with the offence of contempt of court.

Some helpful tips on etiquette include:

  • Treat the Magistrate/ or Judge with respect;
  • Be punctual. Matters are usually all listed to begin at either 9:00 am or 9:30 am depending on the court location and hours of operation.
  • Be patient. Your matter will not necessarily mean be called on at the time it is listed to begin. You should go to court prepared to be there all day.
  • Dress appropriately. Smart casual or business attire is best.
  • Do not use profanities (unless asked by the court to repeat exactly what was said).
  • Be aware of personal hygiene.
  • Turn off your mobile phone and remove hats and sunglasses before going into the courtroom.
  • Take a pen and paper in case you need to write down an adjournment date or other information.
  • Do not take food or drink into the court room.

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

Michelle Makela

This article was written by Michelle Makela

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (State and Federal Industrial Tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

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