Pleading Not Guilty in the Magistrates’ Court
Depending on how serious your charges are, your matter will either finalise in the Infringements Court, Magistrates’ Court, County Court or Supreme Court.
All criminal matters begin in the Magistrates’ Court. The less serious matters, either matters that are summary offences or indictable offences that can be heard summarily, will be completely determined in the Magistrates’ Court. For detailed information on the indictable (more serious crime) procedure please go here. For a better understanding of how to determine which charges will be heard summarily and which charges will be heard in the indictable stream go here.
To plead not guilty in the Magistrates’ Court means that in most circumstances the matter will eventually end up at a contested hearing. To get to a contested hearing a number of preliminary hearings must occur.
Step 1: Obtaining the evidence
Before attending court the first step is to obtain the evidence. As lawyers we routinely obtain evidence from the police. In the summary jurisdiction the brief of evidence is called the police brief.
Once we have received the police brief of evidence we look through it to see if anything is missing.
Following receipt of all the evidence we then take instructions from you, the client.
If your instructions are that you are pleading not guilty we can then consider the likelihood that we will be able to successfully defend your case and advise you of the same.
Step 2: Case conference or contest mention
From there we must attend court. The first preliminary court hearing is called a case conference.
A case conference can occur at the first court listing or following a number of adjournments but it must occur before the matter can be advanced.
At a case conference negotiations begin between the defence and the prosecution. Defence can encourage the prosecution to withdraw the charges. If the defence and prosecution cannot agree, the matter will either proceed to a further case conference, a contest mention or a contested hearing. The instruction to the Magistrate at all times will be that the matter is proceeding by way of a not guilty plea.
A further case conference might be necessary for police to consider their position or simply to allow time for further materials to be provided to defence. Whether the matter proceeds to a contest mention or a further case conference is an important consideration and really depends on the type of matter. A contest mention will have a prosecutor assigned and will usually entail more robust discussions between the defence and the prosecution.
From a contest mention the matter will proceed to a further contest mention if necessary or to a contested hearing were the matter will be determined and a not guilty plea formally entered.
Step 3: Contested hearing in the Magistrates’ Court
At a contested hearing, defence will have the opportunity to cross examine all prosecution witnesses and call any witnesses deemed relevant to the defence.
This is why the preliminary hearings are so important. This is our opportunity to obtain all the information we can in relation to the witnesses, which is then used to cross-examine them. The purpose of cross examination is to examine a witness on multiple sources of information, to discover any inconsistencies in what the witness is saying that in turn should create doubt in the mind of the Magistrate hearing the matter.
The reality is that most of our victories have occurred well prior to the actual contested hearing, either by way of narrowing the issues or by obtaining further materials or both.
If you are intending to plead not guilty it is important that you engage experienced lawyers to ensure that you give yourself the very best chance to be found not guilty.
Dribbin & Brown have run hundreds of contested hearings in the Magistrates’ Court. If you have a criminal matter where you are pleading not guilty you should call our office today.