The court process is often confusing and stressful to those who are unfamiliar with it. The Local Court is where most people have the majority of their traffic and criminal matters dealt with and the following is a short summary of the process. The process can be quite complicated and demanding. If you wish to get the best results it is always advisable to speak to a solicitor and if necessary seek representation.
Practical aspects of going to court
Proceedings commenced by way of a Court Attendance Notice:
When you receive a court attendance notice (whether elected by you after receiving a ticket or in more serious matters issued by police) it will list the date and time and the court at which you are required to attend.
The date on the court attendance notice is often termed the first mention date and a number of things could occur:
- You can ask for the court to adjourn the case for a period of time to enable you to get legal advice or for any other legitimate purpose.
- You can enter a plea of guilty and ask the court to deal with the matter if you are ready for that to be done. It may be that on entering a plea of guilty that you wish an adjournment to obtain references and other evidence to assist you in your plea, on a request for an adjournment the court has the discretion to agree and allow it. However, like all discretions, the court could require you to present your plea.
- You can enter a plea of not guilty and ask for a hearing date.
If you plan to enter a plea of not guilty on the first mention date or subsequent mention date, the court will set the matter down for a hearing at some future date when the prosecution will be required to bring it’s witnesses to give evidence, as will you. I have observed many people arguing with Magistrates and Registrars of the Court demanding their matter be heard on a plea of not guilty on the first mention date this will not happen
In more serious matters the court on the first or subsequent mention date will set a timetable for the police to prepare and serve on you what is commonly known as the brief of evidence which in essence is a written form of the police case and should contain all the witness statements and evidence that the police intend to rely upon at the hearing. The court will set a date for the service of the brief of evidence on you or your lawyer and then what is commonly called a return date when you are expected to appear and confirm your plea if one has been entered or enter a plea if one has not been entered. On some occasions, the brief is not served on time and the prosecution or the defence may ask for more time and a further return date. It is always advisable to have the full prosecution case on hand before setting a matter for hearing in order to best avoid being taken by surprise and in order to carefully prepare a defence. In less serious matters where a brief is not ordered you may wish to ask for an early return date for a subpoena and to issue a subpoena on the Commissioner of Police for the relevant evidence prior to the hearing date so you can study it and prepare your defence.
This is a very basic generalisation of the court process and there are many and various permutations of this process that lawyers use to best advance their client’s case.