Committal proceedings are preliminary court hearings held in the Magistrates’ Court (known as the committal stream) to determine whether there is sufficient evidence against a person charged with an indictable offence to face trial in a higher court, such as the County Court or Supreme Court.
The purpose of committal proceedings in the Magistrates’ Court
The purposes of committal proceedings set out in section 97 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic) (CPA) are:
(a) to determine whether a charge for an offence is appropriate to be heard and determined summarily;
(b) to determine whether there is evidence of sufficient weight to support a conviction for the offence charged;
(c) to determine how the accused proposes to plead to the charge;
(d) to ensure a fair trial, if the matter proceeds to trial, by—
(i) ensuring that the prosecution case against the accused is adequately disclosed in the form of depositions;
(ii) enabling the accused to hear or read the evidence against the accused and to cross-examine prosecution witnesses;
(iii) enabling the accused to put forward a case at an early stage if the accused wishes to do so;
(iv) enabling the accused to adequately prepare and present a case;
(v) enabling the issues in contention to be adequately defined.
Procedure for committal proceedings
If an indictable offence is destined to proceed through the committal stream to be transferred to a higher court, then a specific procedure applies:
(1) Filing Hearing
- A filing hearing is the first stage in committal proceedings. Under section 102 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (the CPA), a filing hearing must occur within 7 days of charges being filed with the court if you have been remanded in custody or have been granted bail. If you are on summons for the charges, a filing hearing must occur within 28 days of the charge being filed with the court.
- The Magistrate will fix a date for the committal mention, fix a date for the hand-up brief to be served and make any other order that is appropriate (section 101 of the CPA).
- The hand-up brief contains all the evidence the police will seek to rely on to prove their case. The is required to serve a copy of the hand-up brief (section 107 of the CPA), and it must be served at least 42 days before the committal mention (section 108 of the CPA).
- Additionally, a case direction notice (also called a Form 32) must be filed at least 7 days before the committal mention, outlining which witnesses the defence wishes to be called and any other evidence or material they want to obtain from the prosecuting agency (section 118 of the CPA).
Follow this link for more about filing hearings.
(2) Committal Mention
- The committal mention is the second step in the committal process. It is a preliminary hearing that takes place before the full contested committal hearing. Any matters in dispute will be discussed.
- The Magistrate may hear and determine an application to cross-examine witnesses, set a date for the committal hearing, or make any other orders they deem appropriate (section 125 of the CPA).
- A committal mention must be held within 6 months after the commencement of the criminal proceeding for the offence (section 126(1)(b) of the CPA). An exception applies if the matter relates to a sexual office, in which case a committal mention must be held within 3 months after the commencement of criminal proceedings (section 126(1)(a) of the CPA).
- The Magistrate may order a more extended period for holding a committal mention if it is in the interest of justice to do so (section 126(2) of the CPA).
Follow this link to learn more about what can happen at a Committal Mention.
(3) Committal Case Conference
- A committal case conference, much like a summary case conference, is a case management tool. It is used to advance the matter and encourage a timely and efficient resolution of the issues in relation to the matter.
- A committal case conference provides a forum that allows the Prosecution, Defence and Magistrate to identify and discuss the issues and the best way to resolve them.
- A committal case conference should be held on the same day as the committal mention. To promote an open discussion of the matter in question, anything that is said or done during the committal case conference, as well as any documents prepared solely for that conference, will be deemed inadmissible as evidence unless all parties agree otherwise (Section 127 of the CPA).
(4) Committal Hearing
- At the committal hearing, the Magistrate will hear evidence and determine whether the evidence is strong enough to support a conviction (section 128 of the CPA).
- At this stage, the Magistrate may offer a summary hearing or determine a summary hearing (section 30 of the CPA). If the court allows the matter to proceed as a summary hearing, it may use the oral evidence of witnesses, witness statements and documents or exhibits tendered in the committal as evidence in the summary hearing with the accused’s consent. The court must call or recall any witnesses who are required for cross-examination, and the proceeding otherwise continues as a summary hearing.
- Or the Magistrate may make any other order that the court deems appropriate.
- This is the last hearing that will take place in the Magistrates’ Court before the matter proceeds to a higher jurisdiction.
- At the completion of the committal hearing, the court must make one of the following orders (section 141(4) of the CPA):
- If the court deems the evidence to be insufficient to support the conviction of an indictable offence, then it must discharge the accused; or
- If the court determines that the evidence is sufficient to support a conviction, it must commit the accused to trial.