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About Magistrates Courts

The Magistrates Courts are the entry level of court in Queensland. Most criminal cases are first heard in the Magistrates Courts, as are most civil cases.

The Magistrates Courts hear 95% of court cases. They deal with:

  • less serious offences—called summary offences—including assault, theft and minor traffic offences
  • committal hearings for more serious crimes
  • civil disputes between people or organisations about property and money involving amounts less than $150,000.

If a person aged under 17 commits a crime, they’ll appear in the Childrens Court—a special Magistrates Court that’s closed to the public.

Local Magistrates Courts are held in 131 locations across Queensland and matters are presided over by a magistrate.

The Coroners Court  is also part of the Magistrates Courts. It reviews accidental or sudden deaths that need more explanation.

Who makes decisions

Criminal trial

In a criminal trial all decisions, including any penalty to be imposed, are made by the magistrate. Unlike the Supreme and District Courts, the Magistrates Courts have no jury.

Civil cases

In a civil trial all the decisions, including an order that one side pay the other money, or perform certain actions to rectify a problem, are made by the magistrate.

Who attends court

Criminal trial

In a criminal trial the evidence against the accused is presented to the court by a Police Prosecutor from the Police Prosecution Corps.

The defendant is the person charged with a criminal offence and may be represented by a solicitor and/or a barrister.

Civil trial

In a civil trial the evidence against the defendant is presented to the court by the plaintiff (or applicant). The plaintiff (or applicant) is the person or organisation that commenced the civil proceeding and may be represented by a solicitor and/or a barrister.

The defendant (or respondent) is the person who the civil proceeding is brought against and may also be represented by a solicitor and/or a barrister.

Court staff

A courts services officer may attend criminal and civil trials and to assist the magistrate with proceedings. The court services officer calls witnesses, asks for their oath or affirmation, announces the beginning and end of the court session and produces paperwork as required during and after court.

Witnesses

Witnesses may be asked to give evidence on behalf of either party in a criminal and civil trial.

Interpreters

An interpreter may be used to interpret for an accused, plaintiff, applicant, defendant, appellant, respondent or witness who does not speak or understand English well or has a hearing impairment. 

Public

The Magistrates Courts are open to the public and media.

Access to the hearing and media reporting of the case may be restricted, such as if the defendant is under 17 years of age, or where a child witness gives evidence.  The magistrate may also make an order that access to the proceedings be restricted, for other reasons.

What happens at a criminal trial for a summary offence

Trial

At the trial:

  • each side presents their case—prosecution first followed by the defence
  • each side calls witnesses to support their case who may be questioned by both sides
  • the magistrate then decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the charges once all the evidence has been presented.
    • If the magistrate finds the defendant not guilty the magistrate will dismiss the charges.
    • If the magistrate finds the defendant guilty the magistrate will pass sentence on the defendant.

Sentencing

The sentence may include, but is not limited to:

  • a prison term
  • a fine
  • community service.

Read more about how sentencing works.

What happens at a committal hearing

Hearing

At the hearing:

  • each side presents their case—prosecution first followed by the defence
  • each side may call witnesses to support their case who may be questioned by both sides
    the magistrate may invite submissions
  • the magistrate then decides if there is sufficient evidence for the defendant to stand trial in the Supreme or District Court.
    • If the magistrate decides that there is insufficient evidence for the defendant to stand trial the magistrate will dismiss the charges.
    • If the magistrate decides that there is sufficient evidence for the defendant to stand trial the magistrate will commit the defendant to stand trail at either the Supreme or District Court Committal

If the magistrate commits the defendant to the Supreme or District Courts the magistrate will also decide whether to:

  • remand the defendant in custody if the magistrate believes the defendant is a flight risk or a danger to the community or themselves or
  • grant the defendant bail which is a promise to return to court as required and fulfil other conditions such as regular reporting to the police. The bail may also require a “surety” which is a promise from another person of money or property as a guarantee of the defendant’s promise to return to the court and comply with the other conditions of the bail. 

What happens at a civil trial

Trial

At the trial:

  • each side presents their cases—the plaintiff (or applicant) first  followed by the defendant (or respondent)
  • each side calls witnesses to support their case who may be questioned by both sides
  • the magistrate decides if the case has been proven and gives judgment. There is no guilty or not guilty verdict.

Judgment

The magistrate may order one side to pay the other an amount of money or perform certain actions to rectify the problem that led to the dispute.

Read more about going to Magistrates Court.

Appealing a decision

A party to a proceeding may appeal a Magistrates Court decision for various grounds such as if:

  • new evidence has come to light
  • they think the judge has made an error of law that has affected the outcome of the trial.

The party will need to make their appeal to the District Court.

For more serious (indictable) offences, the attorney-general can appeal against a sentence set by the Magistrates Court. This is heard in the Court of Appeal.

Read more about appealing a court decision.

Other areas of responsibility

The Magistrates Court also deals with:

  • some minor family law matters (as most go to the Family Court)
  • some other Commonwealth matters, such as those covered by the Customs Act 1901, Social Security Act 1991 and Taxation Act 1953
  • most domestic violence matters
  • child protection order applications.

Further information

Last updated
5 November 2013

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