I want to plead not guilty. Do I have the case heard in the magistrates’ court or go to trial?
Most people seeking legal assistance are charged with an Indictable Offence. The best criminal lawyer will consider whether it is in your interest to have the case heard summarily (in the Magistrates Court) or proceed to trial (in the County Court).
Many offences are known as Indictable Offences. If you are charged with an indictable offence the matter will commence in the Magistrates Court.
Some indictable offences, murder, rape or terrorism offences, may only be heard by a Judge as a Plea hearing or a Trial in the County or Supreme Courts.
There are many indictable offences known as “offences triable summarily”, such as Burglary, Indecent Assault, Traffick Drug of Dependence, and Theft.
If you are charged with an offence “triable summarily” such as Indecent Assault, you or your lawyer will be asked if you consent to the case being dealt with in the Magistrates Court either as a Plea Hearing or a Contested Hearing if you have pleaded Not Guilty to the charges against you.
There may be advantages to having your matter heard by a Magistrate including the cost of your representation, the speed of resolution, and in many cases the likely lesser penalty in the event of a conviction.
If you elect to proceed with your case in the Magistrates Court as a contested hearing (pleading not guilty), then the Magistrate must determine what is admissible in the police case as evidence of guilt and whether on the facts you are guilty “beyond reasonable doubt”. Some cases may require the Magistrate to rule certain evidence as inadmissible in the police prosecution case. The Magistrate must then put the inadmissible evidence out of mind and judge your case on the evidence that is admissible.
In some cases, it may be to your advantage to refuse summary jurisdiction. The best criminal lawyers will be able to advise on whether the issues in your case justify taking the case to a higher court. If you elect to have the charges determined by a Judge and Jury, The case will be placed in the Indictable stream of the Magistrates Court to be committed for trial.
There may be advantages in taking a charge to trial. The Judge will determine the law and how it is applied to the evidence. The Jury, following the law as directed by the Judge, is the sole arbiter of the facts and determine whether the allegation or charge has been proved “beyond reasonable doubt”. The Jury will not have to “put out of mind” evidence a Judge rules inadmissible in the trial as these considerations take place in the absence of the jury.
Taking a case to trial may offer forensic advantages but you can expect a trial to take longer and the delay to be more significant. It necessarily may involve additional costs. The sentencing considerations are not restricted as in the Magistrates Court and Judges are not restrained other than by the maximum penalty for any offence and can impose a much higher penalty where appropriate.
The best criminal lawyer will advise you of the options, having considered the strength of the police case and the nature of any evidence that is to be relied upon by the police in prosecuting the charge.
Slades and Parsons Solicitors have Accredited Criminal Specialists, the best criminal lawyers, who are available to provide advice and representation in all criminal cases.