The court process

Less serious offences

If the charge is a less serious one that can be handled by police, the Police Criminal Justice Sections handle the conduct of the case in the Magistrates Court. The police prosecutor is responsible for assessing whether or not there is enough evidence in support of the charge and may suggest some further investigations be carried out.

The prosecutor is responsible for deciding:

    • whether to proceed to trial 
    • whether to charge the accused with a different offence
    • whether to accept a plea to a lesser offence from the accused
    • whether to drop the case.

There may be several appearances in the Magistrates Court.

Once it is clear that there is sufficient evidence against the accused to proceed and he or she is not going to plead guilty, the matter will be given a date for trial – usually several months away.

As a victim, you should be kept informed of the progress of your matter by the prosecutor (or another police officer) and the reasons for any important decision.

More serious offences

If the charge is classified as more serious, the prosecution is handled by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Initially, the DPP handles the prosecution at Magistrates Court level through its Committal Unit.

The DPP has a Witness Assistance Service which provides information, assistance and counselling to witnesses, both adults and children.

If you are a victim of a sexual assault, you will usually be asked to attend a proofing session with a prosecutor from the Committal Unit of the DPP. This is a meeting at which you provide a detailed statement. (This is necessary, even though you may have earlier given a full statement to the police.) The session will usually be conducted in the presence of a police officer. You can also have someone from the Witness Assistance Service or one of the other agencies listed at the end of this booklet present.

Committal - Preliminary examination

In serious cases, there is a committal (ie a preliminary examination) in the Magistrates Court. The prosecution is required to provide all witness statements to both the lawyer representing the accused and to the court. The court decides on the basis of the written evidence whether the case should go to trial.

This process may involve several Magistrates Court appearances by the accused. You may attend court if you wish to, but you are not normally required to.

Occasionally, the lawyer for the accused is successful in gaining the court’s permission to ask witnesses questions orally in the Magistrates Court. If this is the case, you will be warned in advance by the prosecution.

If the Magistrate finds a case to answer, the accused is committed for trial to the District Court or Supreme Court.

A different prosecutor from the DPP is assigned to handle the matter from here on, except in the case of homicide. The prosecutor from the DPP will reassess the evidence and may suggest further investigations be undertaken by police.

The DPP prosecutor is responsible for deciding:

    • whether to proceed to trial with the prosecution
    • whether to charge the accused with a different offence
    • whether to accept a plea to a lesser offence from 
    • the accused
    • whether to drop the case.

You will be consulted by the DPP before any important decisions are made.

There may be several appearances in the District Court or Supreme Court. Unless the accused pleads guilty, the matter will be given a date for trial – usually several months away.

You will be informed of the trial date.

The criminal justice system for adult offenders - view diagram