In Queensland, they finalise most sexual offences in the District Court. This means a Judge or Jury will decide if you are guilty or not guilty of the sex offence. If you plead guilty to the offence, or are found guilty, a Judge will decide on your penalty.
It doesn’t matter what sexual offence you are charged with, you will start in the Magistrates Court. Your charge will most likely proceed through the committal stage in the Magistrates Court. The committal stage is what all charges proceeding to the District Court go through.
What Are “Mentions” In The Magistrates Court?
The most common court appearance in the Magistrates Court is called a mention. A mention is when the Magistrate reviews the case and the progress of it. At mentions, the prosecutor and defence lawyer, or defendant appear in court. The parties will tell the Magistrate what is happening. The main points of discussion is the disclosure of brief material by the prosecution to the defence.
Do You Need To Go TO Court ?
Even if you have a lawyer representing you, the general rule is you must attend Court. There are exceptions to this rule, which are discussed below. After the first mention of your case, your lawyer can ask the Magistrate to excuse your appearance at subsequent mentions.
If you do not have a lawyer you must go to court for each mention of your case. If you do not go, the court may issue a warrant for your arrest.
THE FIRST MENTION IN THE MAGISTRATES COURT
Whether or not you need to go to court will depend on 2 things:
1. How police charged you with the sexual offence. For example, did they give you a Notice-to-Appear or did they charge you at the watch-house and give you bail?; and
2. Do you have a lawyer representing you?
Police Gave Me A Notice-To-Appear
If police gave you a notice-to-appear you must go to Court for the first mention of your case. This is even if you have a lawyer representing you. If you do not go to court there is a strong likelihood the court will issue a warrant for your arrest.
Police Charged Me At The Watch-house And I Was Given Bail
If police charged you and gave you bail you must go to court if you do not have a lawyer representing you.
If you have a lawyer appearing for you at the mention of your case in court your lawyer can ask for your appearance to be excused.
If you have a lawyer representing you, it is important you always find out from them if they need you to attend court.
What Are Your Options At The First Mention Of Your Case?
Before your first mention, we strongly recommend you get legal advice. This way you will know all your options.
If your sexual offence is being heard in Brisbane, then the first mention of your case will be in the Roma Street Magistrates Court (the arrest court). At this first mention, the Magistrate will adjourn your charge to the committal callover. The committal callover is heard each Monday in the Brisbane Magistrates Court located on 363 George Street, Brisbane.
Option 1: Plead Guilty (this is very rare).
You can accept the facts and charge as alleged against you in the QP9 Court Brief. You can then have your charge committed for sentence to the District Court (please note this course of action is very rare).
Option 2: Adjourn to another date so the Prosecution can give you brief material
You or your lawyer may want the prosecution to give you some material before you decide what you want to do. Your case can be adjourned to another date to allow the prosecution time to give you the material. This material may include witness statements or exhibits, like CCTV footage, your interview with police or text messages etc. This adjournment should be for 21 days (as per Magistrates Court Practice Direction 9 of 2010).
Option 3: Adjourned for a full brief-of-evidence
You may want all the evidence the police has before you decide what you want to do. Your case can be adjourned to another date to allow the prosecution to give you a copy of the full brief-of-evidence.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Full Brief Of Evidence?
There is no hard and fast rule to this question. Magistrates should follow Practice Direction 10 of 2010 when making Orders for briefs of evidence. This Practice Direction says the disclosure of the full brief of evidence to the defence is to occur within 5 weeks and a further mention in 7 weeks. Sometimes the prosecution will be late in giving the brief to the defence. The reason for the brief being late can be for various reasons. Police may have difficulty in getting a witness to give a statement, because they are on holidays or do not co-operate with police. There may be delays because the evidence takes longer than 7 weeks to get. For example, DNA evidence or technical evidence associated with child exploitation cases can take longer than 7 weeks.
You Have The Full Brief Of Evidence, Now What?
If you have the full police brief of evidence, then it is time to review it. During this process, you or your lawyer will decide if any witnesses need to be cross-examined. The other issue to decide on is if there should be a no case submission made to the court. When defence cross-examine witnesses this takes place at a committal hearing.
When you are charged with a sexual offence in Queensland, your charge will proceed through the committal stage in the Magistrates Court. This is an important stage in the criminal court process.
One of the purposes of the committal stage is to determine if there is enough evidence to put you on trial for a sex offence. In legal terms, the question asked is, “is there a prima facie case?”. The way we determine if there is a prima facie case against someone charged with a sexual offence is to get a copy of the full police brief-of-evidence.
The full brief-of-evidence contains all the witness statements and the exhibits the prosecution intends on relying upon in prosecuting you.
TYPES OF COMMITTAL PROCEEDINGS
At a committal hearing, the Magistrate does not decide if a person is guilty or not guilty of an offence. The Magistrate’s job is to decide if there is a prima facie case against someone for a criminal offence. This means the Magistrate decides if there is any evidence upon which a jury could convict an accused, not that they would.
COMMITTAL WITH CROSS-EXAMINATION
This kind of committal hearing involves a witness or witnesses attending Court to be cross-examined on defined issues or topics. The defined issues/topics will already have worked out before the hearing takes place. It is not a free for all whereby the defence can cross-examine a witness on anything and everything. The cross-examination is very limited to defined issues or topics.
At the end of the committal hearing, the defence may concede there is a case to answer against their client. They can also make a “no case submission” to the Magistrate. This means the defence says there is insufficient evidence to put the defendant on trial in the District or Supreme Court. If such a submission is made, the Magistrate must review all the evidence and decide if there is a case against the defendant to put them on trial.
If the Magistrate decides there is a case against the defendant, then they commit them for trial to the District or Supreme Court. If the Magistrate decides there is insufficient evidence against the defendant, then the charge is dismissed and that’s the end of the matter.
FULL HAND-UP COMMITTAL
Full hand-up committals are another committal proceeding in Queensland. They are rare unless the defence wants to make a “no case submission”. This is a hearing before a Magistrate. The prosecution gives the Court all of their evidence (e.g. they give the Magistrate the witness statements and the exhibits). After the prosecution has given the Court all of their evidence, the defence can concede there is a case against their client. They can also make a “no case submission” which was discussed above at committals with cross-examination.
A registry committal is the most common committal proceeding in Queensland. You must use a criminal defence lawyer for a registry committal to make sure you have all the evidence the prosecution relies on. If a criminal charge proceeds by registry committal, a Magistrate does not consider any evidence. The defence and the prosecution complete paperwork which is filed in the Court. A clerk of the Court processes the paperwork and commits the charge to the District or Supreme Court.
A defendant whose charge proceeds by registry committal can:
(a) enter no plea and be committed for trial;
(b) enter a plea of not guilty and be committed for trial; or
(c) enter a plea of guilty and to be committed for sentence.
What Happens Once My Charge Has Been Committed To The District Court?
Once your charge has been committed from the Magistrates Court to the District Court, you have to wait for the prosecution to present the indictment in the District Court. The indictment is a document presented in the District Court formally charging a person with a sexual offence. Until the indictment is presented in the District Court, the District Court has no power to do anything.
Before the indictment is presented in the District Court the prosecution sends your lawyer:
- A Notice of Trial. This document tells you the court the indictment is being presented in, the time and the date when the indictment is being presented.
- A copy of the indictment being presented.
If you have a lawyer representing you, then you will not need to attend court. If you do not have a lawyer representing you, then you will need to attend court when the indictment is being presented.
Criminal Lawyers Brisbane Group- The Sexual Offence Experts
If police charge you with a sexual offence, the best thing you can do is arm yourself with a criminal defence lawyer. But, not any criminal lawyer. You want a criminal lawyer whose primary practice is sexual offences. At the Criminal Lawyers Brisbane Group we focus on crimes involving sex, drugs and, no, not rock and roll, but fraud.
If you want the best result, you need the best Brisbane criminal lawyers. Contact the Criminal Lawyers Brisbane Group today for confidential expert advice. We represent clients throughout South-East Queensland. No matter where your criminal charge is, our sex crime lawyers can help you.
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