Court process for criminal charges in the ACT
All criminal proceedings in the ACT commence either by a ‘summons’ being served by a police officer on a person, or the police laying a charge after arrest.
If a summons has been served on you, you are required to attend the ACT Magistrates Court on the date listed in the summons unless a lawyer appears on your behalf. The summons should contain details of the charge, the date you are to attend court and a “Statement of Facts,” which sets out what the police say are the circumstances of the charge. Despite its name, the “Statement of Facts” is simply a police version of events, which may or may not include information gathered from witnesses or other evidence.
If you have been arrested, the police will inform you whether or not they will be laying charges. When charges have been laid you may be released on police bail and given a date to attend court; if the police do not release you, you will be brought before the Magistrates Court for a bail application to occur. This should occur within 48 hours of your arrest.
There are two criminal courts in the ACT: the Magistrates Court (which includes the Childrens Court) and the Supreme Court. No matter how serious, all criminal charges will start in the Magistrate Court. Whether a charge stays in the Magistrates Court or moves up to the Supreme Court depends on a number of factors such as: the type of charge, seriousness of alleged conduct, maximum penalties or the value of any damage and the views of the prosecution or defence teams.
If you want to defend the charge against you, the first step is entering a plea of not guilty. This causes a brief of evidence to be prepared by police. A brief of evidence is all the material including any witness statements, police statements, photographs, CCTV or anything else they say prove you committed the offence you were charged with. This can take between 6-10 weeks, or even longer if your matter is complex.
If your matter is staying in the Magistrates Court, it is then listed for what is called a hearing. This is like a trial, where the prosecution presents the evidence against you, you defend the charge and maybe tell your side of the story, but the person who decides is a magistrate, not a judge or jury.
As matters that go to the Supreme Court are generally more serious or complex, it takes a lot more time and preparation to get to a trial. A trial means that, like for a hearing, the prosecution presents the evidence and you have a chance to defend the charge. However, because you are in the Supreme Court, you will either have a judge deciding or a jury (12 people randomly selected from the community). For most types of charges, you can choose whether you would prefer a judge or jury to decide your case, but some types of charges like sexual charges or murder can only be decided by a jury.
If you are found not guilty of a charge, the hearing or trial is usually the end of the matter. If the charge is in the Magistrates Court, you may be able to recover some of your legal costs from the Australian Federal Police. If you were found not guilty in the Supreme Court, recovering costs is not possible.
When you are found guilty of a charge, you will then need to be sentenced – this is a time for the magistrate or judge to determine what consequences would be appropriate for your guilt. For some simple matters, this can be done immediately after the hearing but for more serious and Supreme Court charges, this is usually done a few months after the hearing or trial has concluded. A sentence hearing allows the court to hear not only about the charges and the people they may have impacted, but about who you are and how charge has and will affect your life, and your character or any past criminal record, amongst many other considerations.
Being found guilty of a charge (also known as being convicted) is not necessarily the end of the story. It is possible there was something legally or factually wrong with how a decision about your guilt was reached, or the sentence you were given may have failed to consider some important factors or been too harsh for the charge. When this happens you can appeal the conviction or the sentence, or in some cases, both.
This means that your matter is sent to a higher court for them to decide if there was an error and if so, what should be done about it. If you do want to appeal, you must decide and file that appeal with the court within 28 days from the conviction or sentence. If you are outside this time limit, you may not be able to appeal or you may need to ask the court’s permission first.
Hugo Law Group is a law firm that is focused on protecting and defending your rights. Drawing on decades of experience, our team of criminal lawyers will guide you through the legal process, providing comprehensive, honest and strategic advice – qualities that give us our renowned reputation.
Whether you want to plead not guilty, you are looking to secure the best possible sentence, or a loved one wants to apply for bail, it is essential to have an experienced team of criminal defence lawyers in your corner.
Seeking comprehensive and practical advice at an early stage will best ensure your rights and interests are protected. Our lawyers will properly prepare and present your case to assist you in getting the best possible outcome.
At Hugo Law Group, we will clearly explain what your rights and obligations are so that you can make informed decisions about how to deal with the police and the court process.
Even if you have not yet been charged with a criminal offence, you should seek advice from a lawyer at an early stage to ensure that your rights and interests are protected.
Hugo Law Group is the market leader in criminal defence law, providing exceptional representation to people facing serious criminal charges.
As leaders in criminal defence, we know that every story has two sides. We defend yours.