If you have been charged with a criminal or traffic offence in Queensland, the proceedings will commence in the Magistrates Court in your district. Depending on the charge, it will then either be finalised in that court, or will be committed to the District or Supreme Court for finalisation.
The Magistrate’s Court is the court where most criminal matters are first heard. Matters in the Magistrate Court are never heard by a jury; the Magistrate makes all decisions and judgements, including penalty.
This court has jurisdiction to finalise matters such as:
- Summary offences (less serious offences) such as traffic infringements
- Minor offences – such as shoplifting or disorderly behaviour
- More serious offences – such as burglary, assault and drugs
A Magistrate only has jurisdiction to impose a term of imprisonment of three years. If they consider a sentence of more than three years imprisonment is appropriate for a matter, they must abstain from dealing with the matter and it will be committed to the District or Supreme Court for finalisation.
If a defendant pleads not guilty to a charge that can otherwise be finalised in the Magistrates Court, it will be listed for a summary hearing at which time the prosecution will produce all evidence they rely upon to prove the charge/s. This will include witnesses who will give oral evidence and be subject to cross-examination and physical documents such as photographs or footage. The defendant will have the opportunity to call or give evidence then the Magistrate will determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
The Magistrates Court also has the responsibility for courts such as:
- Children’s Court (defendant is under 18 years old when they committed the offence).
- Coroners Court (reviews accidental or sudden deaths that require more information).
- Domestic Violence matters
- Application for child protection orders
- Tenancy disputes and other minor civil matters
The District Court in Queensland is the second tier of the court system and hears serious criminal offences that include charges such as rape, armed robbery, dangerous driving and choking. This court also has the capacity to hear appeals of decisions reached in the Magistrates Court, as well as civil matters that range from $150,000 to $750,000.
The District Court is also responsible for courts such as:
- Children’s Court of Queensland (serious cases involving defendants under 18 years).
- Planning and Environment Court (disputes about town planning, land subdivision and rezoning).
Supreme Court (Trial DIvision/Court of Appeal)
The Supreme Court is the highest court in Queensland, and it includes both the trial division and the Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court is where the most serious criminal offences are heard, which include charges such as murder, manslaughter and trafficking in dangerous drugs. The trial division can also hear civil matters that involve a monetary amount of over $750,000.
The Court of Appeal hears all appeals from the Supreme Court and the District Courts, as well as tribunals.
What happens at a criminal trial in the District and Supreme Court?
The process involved if a defendant pleads not guilty to an Indictment in the District or Supreme Court is the same. The matter will be listed for trial and will proceed a Jury trial unless an application has been made for a Judge alone trial.
The trial will then proceed as follows:
- The jury is empanelled – this involves selecting 12 people at random from a panel of people from the community who have also been selected at random.
- The prosecution present their case by calling witnesses to give oral evidence and be cross-examined, as well as producing any physical documents / footage.
- The defendant will then be asked whether they intend to give or call evidence (they do not have to). If they do, they will present their case in the same way and any witnesses will be cross-examined by the prosecutor.
- Closing arguments are then made to the Jury and the Judge sums up the case and gives directions on issues of law to the Jury
- The Jury retire to consider their verdict. They will either find the defendant guilty or not guilty or advise they cannot reach a verdict (they have to be unanimous).
- If defendant is found:
- Not guilty – the Judge will dismiss the charges
- Guilty – the Judge proceeds to sentence
This post contains general advice only and is not intended as legal advice.