GOING TO TRIAL IN MAGISTRATES COURT QLD
Before deciding to go to trial, we recommend you get legal advice.
Going to trial means you are pleading not guilty to the charge. You are saying you did not commit the offence. In the Magistrates Court, a Magistrate hears the evidence presented by the prosecution, and decides if you are guilty or not guilty. Unlike trials in the District or Supreme Court, there is no jury. The trial is also less formal than a trial in the District or Supreme Court.
WHAT HAPPENS AT A SUMMARY TRIAL?
(1) YOU ENTER A PLEA OF NOT GUILTY
The Magistrate will read out the charge to you and ask you how you want to plead. If you are contesting the charge, you will need to say “Not guilty Your Honour.”
(2) THE PROSECUTION PRESENTS THEIR CASE
The Prosecution will then start their case. The prosecution will call each of their witnesses one-by-one to give their evidence. The process in which this occurs is:
- The witness will sit in the witness box inside the courtroom. The witness will not
have a copy of their police statement with them. The witness must give evidence from their own memory.
- The Clerk of the Court will ask the witness if they want to take an oath on the Bible (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 ask the witness questions (this is known as examination-in-chief). When the prosecutor asks a witness a question, it cannot be a leading question. A leading question is a question suggesting the answer to it. An example of a leading question is “the car was blue, wasn’t it?”.This question suggests the colour of the car was blue.
After the prosecution has asked a witness questions, the defence may ask the witness questions. This is called cross-examination of the witness. When a witness is cross-examined, they may be asked leading questions. When the defence ask the witness questions they may suggest things to them. For example, defence may suggest a witness did not see everything as they say they did. However, the defence cannot ask the witness whatever questions they want. They may only ask questions relevant to the issues to be decided at the trial.
After the defence has asked the witness all of the questions they want to ask, the prosecution can then ask the witness questions. This questioning is known as the re-examination of the witness. When a witness is re-examined, the questions they are asked can only relate to topics or issues discussed during cross-examination.
(3) THE DEFENCE PRESENTS THEIR CASE
Once the prosecution has closed their case, the Magistrate will ask the defence if they will call any witnesses or present evidence. This may include the defendant giving evidence. There is no hard and fast rule about whether a defendant will give evidence in a trial. This is a decision made on a case-by-case basis.
(4) CLOSING ADDRESSES
A closing address is an opportunity for each side to tell the Magistrate why they should find in their favour. The prosecution will tell the Magistrate why the defendant should be found guilty. The defence will tell the Magistrate why they should not find the defendant 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.
If defence do not call any witnesses, the prosecution will give their closing address first, followed by the defence. If defence calls witnesses, they will give their closing address first followed by the prosecution.
(5) DECISION OF THE MAGISTRATE
If the Magistrate does not find the defendant guilty of the offence, the defendant will be discharged. The defendant is free to leave the court, and that is the end of the case. If the Magistrate finds the defendant guilty of the offence, they will usually sentence the defendant straight away.