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GOING TO TRIAL IN THE MAGISTRATES COURT 

We strongly recommend you obtain legal advice before proceeding to trial.

If your matter proceeds to a summary trial, this means that you are contesting the offence/s you have been charged with and you are pleading not guilty. Summary trials are conducted only before a Magistrate, whose task is to determine if you are guilty beyond reasonable doubt. There is no jury. Summary trials are generally more relaxed and less formal than trials in the District and Supreme Courts.

By the time of your summary trial you should already be in possession of a full brief-of-evidence (i.e. all of the evidence the Prosecution intends to rely upon in proving their case against you). If you do not have all of the evidence listed in the index-to-brief provided to you, you should contact the police Prosecutions with carriage of your matter (what does this mean) and ask them to provide you with the missing material. If the Prosecution does not provide you with the material, then arrange for your matter to be brought on for mention before the Magistrates Court and raise the issue with the Magistrate.

PLEASE NOTE that you must collect your brief-of-evidence from Police Prosecutions unless you are legally represented.  

 

WHAT HAPPENS AT A SUMMARY TRIAL?

 

(1) You enter a plea of not guilty

The Magistrate will read out the charge/s to you and ask you how you want to plead.

(2) The Prosecution presents their case

The Prosecution will then start their case. This will generally start by the Prosecution calling each of their witnesses one-by-one to give evidence. When a witness is called to give evidence they will sit in the witness box. The clerk of the Court will generally first ask the witness if they wish to take an oath on the bible (essentially swearing on the bible that the evidence they shall give will be true) or an affirmation (affirming to tell the truth to the Court). The prosecutor will then ask their witness questions (this is known as examination-in-chief). The questions asked by the prosecutor cannot generally be leading questions (i.e. questions that in themselves suggest the answer to the question. For example, a question like “the car that went through the red light was blue wasn’t it?” is a leading question because it suggests the car was blue).

Once the prosecutor has asked their witness questions, the defence lawyer (or the defendant if self-represented) has an opportunity to ask the witness questions (cross-examine them). The questions asked by the defence may be leading questions (i.e. questions that suggest the answer to them) and may include propositions put to the witness. It is important to keep in mind that your lawyer cannot ask any questions they feel like, the questions must be relevant to the issues that are to be determined at the trial.

Upon the witness being cross-examined, the prosecutor has an opportunity to ask the witness further questions (re-examination) limited to questions relating to issues that arose during cross-examination.  

The Prosecution witnesses are called one-by-one and go through examination-in-chief, cross-examination and if need be, re-examination. This process can take hours, days or even weeks depending on the number of witnesses called at the trial.

 

(3) The Defence presents their case

Once the Prosecution has called all of their witnesses to give evidence, the defence then has an opportunity to call their own witnesses (including the defendant giving evidence). Whether or not the defence call witnesses will vary for each individual matter.

If the defence do not call any witnesses, then the closing addresses to the Magistrate will commence with the Prosecution going first followed by the defence.

If the defence does call witnesses, then when it comes time for closing addresses, the defence proceed first followed by the Prosecution.

(4) Closing Address

A closing address is essentially the summing up of your case and is the last opportunity to tell the Magistrate why based on the evidence (or the lack of evidence) they should not find you guilty. This is your lawyer’s opportunity to tell the Magistrate what evidence supports your case that you are not guilty.

The closing address will often highlight:

  • why the evidence does not prove each of the elements of the offence beyond reasonable doubt.
  • the weaknesses in the Prosecution’s case.
  • any defences raised on the evidence (e.g. self-defence, honest and reasonable mistaken belief as to consent etc.).
  • any relevant case law.

(5) Decision

At the conclusion of the closing addresses the Magistrate may adjourn to consider their decision or they will provide their decision then and there.

If the Magistrate finds you not guilty of the offence/s then you will be immediately discharged and that is the end of the matter. However, if the Magistrate finds you guilty of the offences, then they will usually want to sentence you immediately.

You should remember that if you proceed to trial and are convicted of the offence/s, then generally the penalty imposed will be greater than what it would have been had you pleaded guilty.

Can I appeal the decision of the Magistrate?

Please get legal advice before lodging an appeal.

Yes you can appeal the decision of the Magistrate. An appeal of the decision of a Magistrate is made under Section 222 of the Justices Act 1886 (Qld).

You must lodge your appeal within one (1) month from the date of the Order made.

If you pleaded guilty the only ground of appeal you can make is that the fine, penalty, forfeiture or punishment was excessive or inadequate.

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