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Appearing at court


Andrew Fraser

Court attendance is a serious matter.

Many people are unfamiliar with court practice and procedure, and even the location of the courthouse.

This page is intended to help those appearing in the ACT Magistrates Court for the first time.

The court is situated at Knowles Place in the City, directly behind the Reserve Bank building and bounded by the Supreme Court (marble building), Vernon Circle (around City Hill) and the car park on the western side of the start to Northbourne Avenue.

Your lawyer can either meet you at court or at our office and walk to court with you.

If meeting at court, it is best to enter the building, clear security and meet in one of the foyers.

The ground-floor foyer is the appropriate spot if you are involved in a Protection Order matter and the first-floor foyer is the right place for your first appearance in a criminal matter.

Pleading Not Guilty

If you are pleading not guilty in a criminal or traffic matter, that plea will be recorded by a Registrar in Court 1 and the matter will be adjourned for approximately 10 weeks.

If you have not been placed on bail, it is possible for your solicitor to attend on your behalf and enter your plea for you on the first occasion.

You will need to attend on the second court occasion, which is known as a Case Management Hearing (CMH).

By the time of that appearance, you should have received the Brief of Evidence, which is all the material that the Prosecution intends to rely on against you at your hearing.

After a conference with your solicitor, we should be able, at the CMH, to indicate which Prosecution witnesses are required to attend and give evidence at the full hearing of your matter. We should also be able to indicate the likely number of witnesses we intend to call as part of the Defence case and to estimate the likely length of your hearing.

If your matter is to remain in the Magistrates Court, a final hearing date should then be set, normally for about three months in the future.

If, however, your matter is of a more serious nature, it may be committed from the CMH to the Supreme Court for trial before a judge and jury. If this is the case, we will already have advised you of the case’s different route and probably engaged a barrister on your behalf.

Pleading Guilty

If you are pleading guilty, it might be possible for the matter to be dealt with on the first date that it comes before the Magistrates Court.

This will depend on the seriousness of the matter and on your level of preparedness.

More serious matters are often adjourned to allow the court to order the preparation of a Pre-Sentence Report. This is a comprehensive document prepared by the staff of the Probation and Parole Service that endeavours to provide the sentencing magistrate with an overall picture of the offence and the offender, to allow the court to strike the right balance at sentence.

Less serious matters, for example a first-time mid-range drink-drive case, can be dealt with on the day by the Magistrate in control of the A list in Courtroom 1.

If your matter is to be dealt with on the day, your solicitor should have attended the Registrar’s callover and been given a time to make your plea in front of the Magistrate, preventing the need for you to remain for long periods at the courthouse.

When your matter is called, you should come to the right side of the bar table, with your solicitor on your left.

At the other end of the bar table will be at least two representatives of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

They will tender to the Magistrate the Statement of Facts in your matter and your criminal history (if any).

We will tender your references, any relevant certificates (for example, the completion of a course about drink-driving), medical material and anything else that may assist us to achieve the best possible result on sentence.

After considering that material, your solicitor will address the Magistrate, often followed by the Prosecutor.

You should stand when the Magistrate formally proceeds to sentence you. If the Magistrate speaks directly to you, you should always stand to speak, answer clearly and address the Magistrate as “Your Honour”. Keep your answers as short as possible but whilst still answering the question you have been asked.

Clean, business-like attire is recommended to be worn to court.

Protection-order Matters

If you are the Applicant or Respondent in a Protection Order matter, you should meet your lawyer on the ground floor of the Magistrates Court shortly before the appointed time of your first return conference.

From the foyer, a Registrar will call your matter and you will be taken into an interview room, with the other party in the matter being taken into a separate room.

Various options will be explored for the resolution of the matter, including Undertakings between the parties or by the Respondent consenting to the making of orders.

If agreement is not reached, the matter will be adjourned for several weeks to a date when it can be determined by a Magistrate.

On that second occasion, a conference will again be conducted by a Registrar on the ground floor with a view to resolving the matter without putting it before a Magistrate. If resolution is not forthcoming, the matter will go to court before the Magistrate.

Court proceedings in Protection Order matters are conducted in a less formal setting than criminal-law matters, but you should still always address the Magistrate as "Your Honour".

Protection Order matters are decided on "the balance of probabilities" and not the criminal standard of proof of "beyond reasonable doubt".



where to next?

If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

Why Choose Armstrong Legal?

Contact Armstrong Legal:
Canberra: (02) 6288 1100
Brisbane: (07) 3229 4448
Sydney: (02) 9261 4555
Melbourne: (03) 9620 2777