Going to court
Whether you are a victim, a witness or a defendant, going to court can be a daunting and stressful experience.
However, you should not be afraid to go to court; support and information is available to help you throughout the legal process.
Types of court in Queensland
There are 3 levels of court in Queensland, the Magistrates Court, the District Court and the Supreme Court. The level of court a trial is heard in depends on the seriousness of the crime.
There are also special courts to meet the needs of specific categories of offenders—such as children—and to establish specific facts, such as the Coroners Court which may investigate a death.
Find out more about the different Queensland courts and what they do.
Find a Queensland court
Courts are located throughout Queensland. The different types of court often share the same courthouse.
What’s on in which court?
The daily law lists tell you what cases are being heard in the Brisbane Magistrates Court and all of Queensland’s Supreme and District courts each day.
The daily law list also has useful information for jurors; both those summonsed (asked to attend court as a juror) and empanelled jurors (people already serving on a jury).
The law lists are updated daily (no later than 6.00pm).
Read the daily law lists.
Do you need an interpreter?
Whether you are a defendant, victim or witness it is important that you understand what is happening in court and the questions put to you. The court also needs to understand your answers.
If you don’t speak English
If you don’t speak or understand English well, you can ask for an interpreter to help you in court. You should let your lawyer know you need an interpreter as soon as you know you will be going to court. You should not have a family member interpret for you.
If you have a hearing impairment
If you have a hearing impairment and use sign language, your legal adviser can organise to have an Auslan (or other sign language) interpreter to support you in court.
Modern courthouses may be fitted with audio loops. Ask your lawyer to make sure this is available in the courtroom if you need it.
Going to court as a witness or victim of crime
You may be asked to attend court as a witness if you have information—if you saw or heard something relevant to the case or were involved in the events in some way—that will help the court come to a fair decision. Victims of violent crime are very important witnesses.
You may also be asked to go to court as an expert witness—such as a doctor or engineer—to provide advice about the evidence presented.
You can be asked to appear as a witness for the prosecution or the defence. In either case you may be asked questions about what you know by both the defence and prosecution lawyers. This is to ensure the facts presented about the crime are correct.
If you have documents relevant to the case you may be asked to bring these with you too.
Before a hearing or trial in court, the defendant may apply for bail. People who are allowed bail can go free as long as they sign a bail undertaking to turn up on further court dates and abide by any conditions that the court has set.
Wherever possible, the police should let witnesses know of any bail applications. If the defendant is allowed bail, the police should let you know what the conditions are.
If you are worried about the accused being granted bail, you need to tell the police as it may be possible to oppose bail. If you fear for your safety or your family's safety, you should call the local police station immediately so action can be taken.
Support for witnesses and victims going to court
The court process can be daunting for a witness, particularly if you witness a violent crime. Information, support and advice are available to help you throughout the legal process.
Victim Assist Queensland
You can get support and advice from Victim Assist Queensland by calling 1300 546 587. They can explain the legal process and help you prepare for your appearance in court.
Find out more about Victim Assist Queensland.
Free support and counselling is available from Relationships Australia to help you recover from the emotional and psychological impact of witnessing a crime. Phone 1300 139 703 or visit the Relationships Australia website.
When you go to court as a witness or a victim of crime in Brisbane, Townsville or Cairns, you can also get help and advice from Court Network—a voluntary service providing support, non-legal information and referral for people going to court. They can:
- provide support and information about going to court
- be with you to provide support on your day in court
- explain how the courts and legal systems operate (in person or by telephone)
- show you around the court beforehand, so you can become familiar with where you have to go on the day of your court case
- provide you with a safe place in court
- refer you to other community services that can help you.
Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP)
If you are a victim of crime, you may be asked to attend court as a witness for the prosecution; you will be able to provide vital evidence about what happened. If the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) decides to prosecute the offender, the ODPP will appoint a victim liaison officer to help you throughout the court process. They will:
- keep you informed of when the case will go to court
- let you know if you need to be a witness
- arrange for you to discuss what will happen in court
- organise a support person
- help you write a victim impact statement
- refer you to specialist support and counselling services.
Being ordered to go to court
You may be legally ordered to go to court as a witness, particularly if you are a witness for the prosecution—this is called a ‘summons’ if you are needed as a witness in a Magistrates Court, or a ‘subpoena’ if you are called as a witness in a District or Supreme Court.
If you are summonsed or subpoenaed and do not attend court, you may be found guilty of contempt of court and a warrant may be issued for your arrest.
When to go to court
If you get a summons or subpoena to go to court, it should tell you the day the trial is due to start. If you are unsure when to go to court, contact the person who has requested you to appear as a witness—their details should be on the summons or subpoena.
If you are a victim of crime, your victim liaison officer, or the prosecutor, will tell you when to go to court.
If you are appearing as a witness for the defence, the defence lawyer will normally tell you when to go to court.
In the courthouse
You will be met by the person who has asked you to attend court—normally the defence or prosecution lawyer—and they will take you to an area outside the courtroom to wait; some courthouses have secure waiting rooms for witnesses.
You are not allowed into the courtroom until you are called to give your evidence. You shouldn’t talk to other witnesses about the case before you and they have given evidence.
Find out more about courtroom rules.
Vulnerable witnesses—including children, victims of sexual assault and people with an intellectual disability—may be given special help to reduce the trauma of giving evidence in court.
If you are a vulnerable witnesses you may be able to:
- have a support person with you in court
- record your evidence or give it over a video connection from a remote witness room
- have a screen put up so you don’t have to see the accused person
- have the court closed to the public and media.
If you feel you need special help to give evidence, speak to the prosecutor and they can apply to the court for you. The magistrate or judge will decide if you can have help.
You will be called to give evidence by a court official—called a court services officer in a Magistrates Court or a bailiff in a District and Supreme Court. They will ask to go into the witness box and take an oath or affirmation—a promise—that what you say is the truth. The witness box is where you will give your evidence.
The lawyers for the defence and prosecution will then ask you questions about what you know. Only answer the questions they ask you; take your time, keep calm and answer each question clearly. If you don't understand a question or you didn’t hear it properly, ask them to repeat it. If you feel upset or distressed, pause; you can ask for a break if you need to. Continue with your evidence only when you are ready; it’s important everyone in the court hears and understands your evidence.
Always tell the truth when you answer questions. It is a crime—perjury—to lie in court.
When you finish giving evidence you will be released from your oath, and asked to stand down and leave the witness box. You may continue to watch the trial from the public gallery if you wish.
Victim impact statements
If you are victim of violent crime, you can make a victim impact statement. This is a written description of how the crime has affected you physically, emotionally and psychologically. This can be taken into consideration by the magistrate or judge during sentencing.
Find out more about victim impact statements.
Going to court as a defendant or litigant
If you are charged with a criminal offence, you are known as the ‘defendant’ or ‘accused’. In civil case you may be known as the litigant.
You are considered innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
Whatever offence you are charged with you should get advice as soon as possible from a lawyer. They can help you and can advise on how you should plead—guilty or not guilty.
For free legal advice, call Legal Aid Queensland on 1300 65 11 88.
Find out more about the help Legal Aid Queensland can give you.
Representing yourself in court
You don’t have to have a lawyer when you go to court. If you want, you can represent yourself in any of Queensland’s courts: Magistrates Court, District Court and Supreme Court.
Whichever court your case is being heard in, you are strongly advised to get legal advice—particularly about complex legal matters—before your case is heard.
Find out more about Going to court without a lawyer.
When to go to court
It is very important that you don’t miss your court appearance; if you do, a warrant may be issued for your arrest.
Your lawyer can tell you when to go to court or you may receive a notice or summons to appear which details what you are charged with, and when and where you need to go to court.
You can also look up when and where your case is being heard in the daily law list.
Arriving at court and inside the courtroom
You should go to the courtroom where your case is being heard in good time. There are notice boards and television screens in courthouse foyers telling you in which court cases are being heard and when. You can also ask at the registry counter. Go to the courtroom your case is being heard in.
If your case is being heard in the:
- Magistrates Court, you should wait outside the court to be called
- District Court, check with the bailiff as to when the judge is ready to hear your case
- Supreme Court, wait inside the courtroom and check with the bailiff when the trial will start.
If you are in custody you will be brought to court by correctional officers or the police and will be seated in the dock—a special area of the court facing the judge next to a correctional services officer.
During your trial you should always stand whenever the judge or magistrate is speaking to you and address them as ‘Your Honour’.
Find out more about courtroom rules.
You do not have to give evidence in court; however, it may help your case.
If you choose to give evidence, the prosecution lawyer and your own lawyer will ask you questions. Tell the truth when you answer the questions. It is a crime—perjury—to lie in court.
Your lawyer is the best person to advise you whether to give evidence.
If you plead guilty or are found guilty by the court, the magistrate or judge may decide on a sentence at the end of the hearing or trial. They may also adjourn—delay—the sentence to another date when a sentencing hearing will be held.
During a sentencing hearing, the lawyers on both sides will highlight factors that they think the judge should consider when sentencing you. The victim impact statement—which explains the effect of the crime on the victim—may also be taken into consideration.
When deciding on a sentence, the magistrate or judge will consider a number of factors as well as the seriousness of the crime, the penalties that the law can impose and sentences given for similar offences. For example, they may take into account your criminal history, if you co-operated with the police and the impact the crime has had on the victim.
The judge or magistrate will give their reasons when they hand down the sentence—tell the court what the sentence is.
Find out more about sentencing.
If you are a child—under 17 years old—you will usually be able to have your family with you during a hearing or trial. If you are found guilty you will not be sent to an adult prison; you may be sent to a boot camp or a juvenile detention centre.
Going to court as a juror
Jurors are an important part of our legal system. In most cases heard in the Supreme and District courts, the jury—made up of 12 people chosen at random from the community—decides whether the person is guilty or not.
Find out about juries and jury duty.
Watching from the public gallery
Queensland has an open judicial system. As a member of the Queensland public, you are encouraged to see how it works. The public and media can normally watch a trial from the public gallery at the back of the courtroom.
Family members of anyone involved in the case may also watch from the public gallery. Witnesses can only watch the trial once they have given their evidence.
In special cases—for example, to protect a vulnerable witness—the judge may order a closed court, in which case you will not be allowed in. Cases heard in the Childrens Court and the Childrens Court of Queensland are always held in a closed courtroom to protect the accused child’s identity, although the child’s immediate family are allowed in court to support them.
When you watch from the public gallery you are there as an observer; you should be quiet, watch and listen. You cannot take photos, record, or transmit a trial in any way. You should also follow the formal courtroom rules—such as standing when the magistrate or judge enters the room.
Find out more about courtroom rules.