Jurisdiction of the Magistrates’ Court can be confusing to many. That is because all cases start in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, but not all cases can finalise in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria. The Magistrates’ Court can hear and finalise all summary charges but not all indictable charges.
Indictable charges must go to the County or Supreme Court, unless:
An example of an exception would be the charge of Trafficking a Drug of Dependence to a Child. It carries a maximum of 20 years imprisonment and yet can be heard summarily (in the Magistrates’ Court).
If an indictable charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years or less or is listed in schedule 2, then it may be finalised in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria.
The only other further conditions on an indictable offence being heard in the Magistrates’ Court are that:
The maximum sentence a Magistrate can impose is two years (for a single charge) and five years (for aggregate charges), regardless of the maximum penalty the charge attracts.
e.g. Theft (section 74 of the Crimes Act) carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment but a Magistrate hearing a single charge involving theft can only impose a maximum penalty of two years. If the Magistrate was hearing two charges of theft together, then the Magistrate could only impose a maximum penalty of five years.
The other confusing factor is that some charges have conditions in relation to whether or not they can be heard in the Magistrates’ Court.
In the above example, theft can be only be heard in the Magistrates’ Court if the amount allegedly stolen is less than $100 000. Any amount over $100 000 must be heard in the County Court or Supreme Court.
Indictable offences will always start in the Magistrates’ Court, this is where the preliminary hearings will occur, but if not suitable for the jurisdiction per the above rules, then the matter will always progress to the County or Supreme Courts.
Some indictable offences will be suitable to be finalised in the Magistrates’ Court but are listed in the committal stream because the prosecution deem them too serious to be determined by a Magistrate. In these circumstances as lawyers we can make a summary jurisdiction application to the Magistrate to request that the matters be moved into the summary stream.
If the charge is a summary offence then it can not be heard in the County or Supreme Courts unless it is connected to a indictable offence that is being heard in those jurisdictions or it has been dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court and is being heard as an appeal in the County Court.
For more information on summary offences, please click here. As stated at the start of this article, this is all incredibly confusing. If you have been charged with an offence and you are not sure about the procedure feel free to make contact with our office so we can help you navigate through what is always a very complex process.