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Going to Magistrates Courts for a criminal matter

Who makes decisions

In a Magistrates Court 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. 

 What happens in the Magistrates Courts depends how serious your offence is and how you plead. There are a number of steps involved.

1. The first mention date

Your first day in court is called the 'mention' date. You can't miss it; you must attend.
There are no witnesses and the magistrate makes all the decisions based on the information presented.

The procedure

The prosecutor reads out the charges against you and the magistrate asks ‘How do you plead—guilty or not guilty?’

You or your lawyer must stand and give your answer.

Simple (summary) offences

For simple offences you can do one of the following:

  • ask the magistrate to adjourn the case and set a new date if you need more time to consider your plea
  • plead guilty—the magistrate may decide the penalty then or set a date for a sentencing hearing.
  • plead not guilty—the magistrate then sets a summary trial date.

A summary trial gives you (or your lawyer) and the prosecution more time to arrange evidence and organise witnesses.

Indictable offences

For indictable offences you can do one of the following:

  • ask the magistrate to adjourn the case and set a new date if you need more time to consider your plea
  • plead guilty to a minor indictable offence—the magistrate may decide the penalty at the first mention or set a date for a sentencing hearing.
  • plead guilty to other indictable offences—the magistrate will commit you for sentence to either the District Court or Supreme Court.
  • plead not guilty to a minor indictable offence—the magistrate will set the matter for trial in a Magistrates Court.
  • plead not guilty to a other indictable offences—the magistrate will set a committal hearing date to determine if there’s enough evidence to send you to trial in either the District Court or Supreme Court.

Further mentions

The magistrate may set other 'mentions' before a summary trial to confirm that each party has enough evidence and organised witnesses, and that you’ve finalised your plea.

Bail & Custody

If the proceeding is not finalised at the first mention date you may be held in prison or released on bail until it is finalised, or bail is revoked.

Remanded in custody

You may be held in prison until your trial if the magistrate thinks you’re a risk of not returning to the court when required or a danger to the community or yourself.

Bail

If the magistrate does not think you’re a risk you may be released on bail.

Bail is a promise to return to court on the day set for your trial and fulfil other conditions such as:

  • regularly reporting to police
  • having someone promise money or property as a guarantee that you’ll appear at your court hearing.

The money is refunded when the charges have been dealt with and you’ve met all the bail conditions.

If you are charged with murder you must apply directly to the Supreme Court for bail.

2. Summary hearing

At the summary hearing, you can plead guilty or not guilty.

Pleading guilty

If you plead guilty, the magistrate:

  • listens to the submissions from the prosecutor and your defence lawyer
  • decides the penalty or sets a date for a sentencing hearing.

Pleading not guilty

If you plead not guilty, the prosecution begins by:

  • presenting their evidence
  • calling and questioning witnesses.

The magistrate may also question the witnesses.

When the prosecution has finished:

  • you or your defence lawyer may question the witnesses to confirm or contest their evidence
  • the prosecutor may re-question the witnesses to clarify any points
  • your defence may then submit that there’s no case to answer.

The magistrate may then decide that there:

  • isn't enough evidence and dismiss the case
  • is a case to answer.

If there is a case to answer, your defence lawyer can call defence witnesses and the whole process repeats.

Final submissions

When all witnesses are questioned, the prosecutor and your defence lawyer sum up their cases for the magistrate by making final submissions.

The decision

After hearing all the evidence and submissions, the magistrate may find you:

  • not guilty and dismiss the charges
  • guilty and decide on a penalty or set a sentence hearing.

3. Committal hearing

At the committal hearing, the magistrate decides whether there’s enough evidence for a jury to convict to send you to trial in the District Court or Supreme Court.

In a committal 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 decides if there’s enough evidence to put you on trial. The magistrate will 
    • dismiss the case if there isn't enough evidence
    • charge you if there is enough evidence
  • the magistrate asks if you have anything to say about the charge or to enter a plea. If you plead:
  • the magistrate will also reconsider whether you should be held in prison or released on bail until your trial or sentence.

4. Sentencing

Unless your offence is very minor (i.e. a misdemeanour), you must attend the sentencing hearing. A victim of your offence can also attend.

The type of sentence depends on the seriousness of your offence and the magistrate must give reasons for your sentence.

Read more about sentencing in Queensland.

5. Recording of a conviction

In some cases, the magistrate may decide whether to record a conviction against you.

A conviction can affect your ability to:

  • work in certain professions
  • hold public office
  • work in or travel to some countries.

The magistrate must record a conviction if you’re sentenced to imprisonment.

For some sentences (e.g. a good behaviour bond), the magistrate may choose not to record a conviction.

Further information

Last updated
17 October 2013

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