Step 3 - Court proceedings

If the CDPP decides to start a prosecution, charges will be laid against the person prosecutors believe has committed a crime. This person is known as the defendant.

The defendant will be notified when charges against them are laid. This can be done in two ways, they may be:

  • sent a summons, or a court attendance notice, to appear in court on a certain date
  • arrested and either granted bail or kept in custody until the prosecution finishes.

How will I know if charges have been laid?

Victims can contact the CDPP Witness Assistance Service or the investigator who is dealing with the matter, to find out if charges have been laid.

The court system

Australia has three levels of court for criminal matters. Cases are allocated depending on how serious the offence is, and which state or territory the matter is heard in.

  • Regardless of the charges, all matters start in the Local Court, which is also known as the Magistrates’ Court. This court deals with matters that are less serious, which are often referred to as summary offences. A summary, or simple, offence is tried by a magistrate alone. Examples of summary offences include less serious cases of fraud and drug offences.
  • More serious criminal matters, also known as indictable offences, are heard in a higher court, such as the Supreme, County or District Court. Indictable offences require a trial by judge and jury. Examples of Commonwealth indictable offences include major drug importation cases, terrorism offences and fraud cases where the sum of money involved is large.

Making a plea

At the very start of the criminal proceedings, the defendant will be asked to state how they intend to plead to the charges. This will determine how the case proceeds, and whether a trial will be held.

 A defendant can plead guilty to committing the crime, not guilty, or they may ask for an adjournment to seek legal advice.

  • If the defendant pleads guilty, the magistrate will sentence them, or commit them for sentence to a higher court. Witnesses are not usually called to give evidence on a guilty plea and the magistrate uses an agreed statement of facts prepared by the prosecution.
  • If the defendant pleads not guilty the matter must go to either a hearing in the Magistrates’ or Local court, or to trial in a higher court. The matter is set down for a case management hearing and a date will be set for a committal or hearing.

What is a Statement of Facts?

A Statement of Facts is a summary of the prosecution’s case, outlining what is alleged to have happened when the crime was committed. The facts are prepared by the prosecutor and provided to the defendant’s lawyer.