Criminal Trials in the District and Supreme Court (Qld) | Armstrong Legal

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This article was written by Lisa Taylor - Senior Associate - Gympie

Lisa holds a Masters in Law and a Bachelor of Laws. She also holds a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice from the Australian National University and is admitted as a Lawyer to the Supreme Court of Queensland and as a solicitor to the High Court of Australia. As a senior associate, Lisa’s focus is on advocacy. She ensures all clients...

Criminal Trials in the District and Supreme Court (Qld)


When a person pleads not guilty to serious indictable offences in Queensland, they must go through a trial in the District Court or Supreme Court. The trial may be in front of a judge and jury, or it may be in front of a judge only. The procedures that a matter must go through prior to a trial in the higher courts are different from those that apply when contesting charges in the Magistrates Court. This article outlines the processes involved in criminal trials in the higher courts in Queensland.

Preliminary procedures

All criminal matters commence in the Magistrates Court. At the first appearance for a criminal matter, the magistrate will establish whether the matter is to be heard and determined summarily or finalised on indictment. An indictable offence that is not to be heard summarily will have to go through a committal process in the Magistrates Court.

Committals

A committal is a procedure that occurs to determine whether there is enough evidence for an indictable matter to be committed to a higher court. This can occur by way of registry committal or by committal hearing.

A registry committal is an administrative procedure that is followed when both parties agree that the matter will be committed to a higher court. This usually occurs when the accused is pleading guilty, and the evidence does not need to be tested.

When the accused is pleading not guilty, a committal hearing will usually be held. This is an opportunity for the defence to test the strength of the prosecution case. If there is sufficient evidence for the matter to be committed, it will be transferred to a higher court. If there is insufficient evidence to support a finding of guilt, the matter will be dismissed.

Indictments and criminal trials

When a person is charged with an indictable offence and is committed to a higher court, the charge is reduced to writing in a document which is called an indictment.

Before the presentation of the indictment in court, a copy of the indictment and notice of trial will be supplied to the legal representatives of the accused who will appear at the presentation of the indictment.

A Crown prosecutor then presents the indictment to either the Supreme Court or District Court.

Pre-trial proceedings

Applications for pre-trial directions or rulings are made under section 590AA of the Criminal Code. Examples of pre-trial directions and ruling are:

  • the quashing or staying of the indictment
  • the provision of a statement, report, proof of evidence or other information
  • the ordering of a psychiatric or other medical examination of the accused, or
  • orders on questions of law including the admissibility of evidence and any step that must be taken if any evidence is not to be admitted
  • an order for a trial by a judge sitting without a jury.

Judge alone criminal trials

An accused person may apply to the court for a ‘no jury order’. This is an order that the accused person be tried by a judge sitting without a jury. When this occurs, the judge must apply the principles of law and procedure as they would be applied in a trial before a jury and can make any finding and give any verdict that a jury could have made or given.

The court can make a no jury order if it considers that it is in the interest of justice to do so and if:

(a) the trial, because of its complexity or length or both, is likely to be unreasonably burdensome to a jury;

(b) there is a real possibility that acts that may constitute an offence under section 119B would be committed in relation to a member of a jury;

(c) there has been significant pre-trial publicity that may affect jury deliberations.

An application for a no jury order can be brought by either defence or the crown. The application is made after the matter has been committed for trial and before the trial begins.

If the crown makes a no jury application the court may only make the order if the defence consents. The onus is on the applicant to persuade the court that it is in the interest of justice to make the order for no jury and conduct the trial with a judge alone.

Presence of the accused

It is an essential principle of the criminal law that a trial for an indictable offence be conducted in the presence of the accused. Exceptions exist under common law, namely the voluntary waiving of that right (for example where the accused has absconded on bail) or where the accused’s conduct is intended to and does make the trial impossible.

Procedures in criminal trials

Before a trial begins in the District Court or Supreme Court the bailiff opens the court. The Crown and defence announce their appearances. The accused person is arraigned.

The judge then directs the associate to empanel the jury. Jurors are selected randomly, they are individually called to come forward to take an oath or affirm. During the selection process, the Crown and defence may each challenge up to eight jurors until 12 are empanelled.

The judge makes opening remarks and the trial then commences with the Crown and defence making opening addresses. An opening address is a narrative outline of the case that is to be put to the jury. Then the court hears all the evidence given personally by witnesses and from documents tendered to the court.

The Crown and Defence deliver final addresses.

At the conclusion of a trial, the trial judge has a duty to ‘sum up’ to the jury the issues of fact and the evidence and arguments on both sides. The judge will explain to the jury the elements of the offence and give directions about what is required for the accused to be found guilty and the functions of judge and jury. In some cases, the judge will need to warn the jury about the types of reasoning that can and cannot be engaged in and the particular care that must be taken before accepting certain kinds of evidence.

The jury then delivers the verdict. The verdict must be unanimous. If the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict, the judge will discharge the jury and may order a new trial.

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

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