Appearing at Court
Court attendance is a serious matter.
Many people are unfamiliar with court practice and procedure. This page is intended to help those appearing in the Magistrates` Court of Victoria for the first time.
You must advise the Registry staff when you first arrive and tell them whether or not you have a lawyer. A Registrar will then ask whether you intend to plead guilty or not guilty, or if you are asking the Court for an adjournment. You need to have a reason to ask for an adjournment. The Registrar will then tell you which courtroom your matter will be heard in.
In some courts, if you received a summons to attend Court and it is the first time the case has been listed, your case can be adjourned by a Registrar without having to go into the courtroom. This is known as an administrative adjournment. However, it is up to the discretion of the Registrar and the request may be refused.
Pleading Not Guilty in the Magistrates’ Court
If you are pleading not guilty in a criminal or traffic matter, the Registry will require that you or your solicitor speak to a prosecutor about the case before it is called in Court. This is called a Summary Case Conference.
The purpose of a Summary Case Conference is to discuss what the issues in dispute are, and whether or not the case can be resolved by a plea of guilty (in some cases to a lesser charge) or the police withdrawing the charge altogether.
If you or your solicitor cannot agree on a resolution with the prosecution, the case will be referred into Court to be adjourned.
Some cases will be adjourned to a Contest Mention. This is another opportunity for you or your solicitor to discuss the case with the prosecutor. If there is still no agreement, the case will be called before a Magistrate. At this stage you or your solicitor will need to indicate what the issues in dispute are and which prosecution witnesses are required to attend and give evidence at the final hearing. Your solicitor should also indicate the likely number of witnesses you intend to call as part of the Defence case and estimate the likely length of the hearing.
You or your solicitor may ask the Magistrate for a sentence indication. This is where the Magistrate hears a summary of the offences you are charged with as well as submissions from your lawyer, and indicates what penalty they would impose if you pleaded guilty. If you decide to plead guilty, the Magistrate cannot impose a harsher penalty than what they have already indicated.
If your case does not resolve at the Contest Mention, it will be adjourned for a Contested Hearing. This is the final hearing where witnesses for the prosecution and (if any) the Defence give evidence, and the Magistrate will decide whether or not the prosecution has proven its case against you. It usually takes several months from the first listing of a case until the final hearing.
Pleading Guilty in The Magistrates’ Court
If you are pleading guilty, it might be possible for the matter to be dealt with on the first date that it comes before the Magistrates Court.
This will depend on the seriousness of the matter and on your level of preparedness.
More serious matters are often adjourned to allow the court to allocate a certain amount of time to hear the case or for reports to be obtained. Less serious matters, for example a first-time drink-driving case, can be dealt with on the day by the Magistrate.
If your matter is to be dealt with on the day, your solicitor should have attended the Registry and been told which courtroom to make your plea in front of a Magistrate. Unfortunately Magistrates` Courts are very busy places and you may need to wait some time before your case is heard.
When your matter is called you should take a seat in the front row of public seating as your solicitor takes their place at the bar table. Try to sit in a position so that the Magistrate can see you.
At the other end of the bar table will be a Police prosecutor. They will read to the Magistrate a Summary of the offence in your matter and provide them with a copy of your criminal history (if any).
You or your solicitor will tender your references, any relevant certificates (for example, the completion of a Road Trauma Awareness Course), medical material and anything else that may assist us to achieve the best possible result on sentence.
After the Magistrate has considered that material, your solicitor will address the Magistrate. In some cases this is followed by the prosecutor.
You should stand when the Magistrate formally proceeds to sentence you. If the Magistrate speaks directly to you, you should always stand to speak, answer clearly and address the Magistrate as “Your Honour”. Keep your answers as short as possible but whilst still answering the question you have been asked.
Clean, business-like attire is recommended to be worn to court.
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.