Speak Directly To a Lawyer Now

1300 038 223
Open 7am - Midnight, 7 days
Or have our lawyers call you:
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Committal Hearings in Western Australia

Western Australia has three categories of criminal offences: simple offences, either way offences, and indictable offences. Simple offences are minor offences that are always finalised in the Magistrates Court. Either way offences can be finalised in the Magistrates Court or in a higher court. Indictable offences can only be finalised in a higher court. Before an indictable matter is transferred to a higher court, it must go through a committal hearing or an administrative committal. This page deals with committal procedures in Western Australia.

Which offences must go through a committal?

In WA, all indictable offences must go through a committal before they can be finalised. Indictable offences include robbery, murder, and sexual penetration without consent.

When either way offences are dealt with in a higher court, a committal hearing must be held before this can occur. Either way offences include indecent assault, fraud and possessing stolen property.

Committal hearings

A committal hearing (also known as a disclosure committal) is a pre-trial procedure that assesses the strength of the prosecution case against an accused person. It is held in the Magistrates Court (or Children’s Court if the accused is under 18). If the magistrate considers there is enough evidence that a jury properly instructed could find the accused guilty, they will commit the matter to a higher court. If they do not consider that there is enough evidence, they will dismiss the matter. 

During a committal hearing, the accused must enter a plea. The defence then has the opportunity to question prosecution witnesses and to call evidence if it chooses to do so.

The procedures for committal hearings are set out in section 44 of the Criminal Procedures Act 2004.

Administrative committals

If both parties agree to a matter being committed without holding a disclosure committal, the charges can instead go through an administrative committal. In an administrative committal, the magistrate receives a copy of the brief of evidence, and based on this, decides whether the evidence is sufficiently strong to commit the matter to a higher court.

Administrative committals avoid the need for oral evidence and are quicker and less costly than disclosure committals. They are usually held when the accused is pleading guilty. 

The procedures for administrative committals are contained in section 43 of the Criminal Procedures Act 2004.

What is the purpose of committals?

Committal procedures exist so that weak and vexatious prosecutions do not reach the higher courts. They allow the lower courts to eliminate prosecutions that are unlikely to be successful to avoid wasting the higher courts’ time.

Committals also allow the defence to test the case against the accused and try out possible arguments prior to the trial. They also give witnesses the opportunity to practice giving evidence.

Advantages and disadvantages of holding committal hearings

There are both advantages and disadvantages to running a disclosure committal. Whether it is advisable to have one depends on a number of factors, including the nature of the evidence and the defence that is being relied on.

From the defence point of view, the advantages of a disclosure committal include having the opportunity to test the prosecution witnesses and expose weaknesses in the case. If the defence calls evidence at the disclosure committal, this also gives the accused the opportunity to explore possible arguments to run at trial.

The disadvantages of a disclosure committal for the defence include alerting the prosecution of the defence that the accused is going to rely on at trial, requiring witnesses to give their evidence twice, as well as the significant cost of running a disclosure committal on top of the cost of running a trial.

Children’s Court Committal Hearings

When a person under 18 is charged with an indictable offence, the committal is held in the Children’s Court. All of the same procedures outlined above apply when a committal is held in the Children’s Court.

The Children’s Court can also commit a criminal matter to a higher court if the magistrate considers that the jurisdictional limits that apply in the Children’s Court are insufficient to deal with the matter adequately. 

When the Children’s Court sentences a person, the maximum penalty it can impose for a single offence is the following:

  • 12 months detention;
  • Three months imprisonment for an offender under 18
  • Six months imprisonment for an offender over 18

Under section 21 of the Children’s Court of Western Australia Act 1988, when the Children’s Court is dealing with a matter that is so serious that the offender cannot be sentenced appropriately within these limitations, it may commit the matter to a higher court.

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

Fernanda Dahlstrom

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

Legal Hotline
Open 7am - Midnight, 7 Days
Call 1300 038 223