This section contains information about the various stages of the court process that you may encounter and provide you with an understanding of the court process.
Following an incident, reporting a crime to the police is the first step in a victim's or witness's involvement in the criminal justice system. The police then conduct an investigation of the matter by gathering evidence, including witness statements, and this can sometimes be a lengthy process.
Where there is enough evidence the police may either summons the offender to come to Court or arrest them and a Judge may release them on bail or remand them in custody to appear at the next available Court. If an offender is release on bail, there may be conditions placed on them including that they have to regularly report to the Police Station and sometimes directing that they cannot have contact with the victim or other witnesses. If an offender is summonsed or bailed to appear in Court and does not attend, a warrant for their arrest can be requested.
Once the charge is laid, the police must provide all the documentation for the case to the prosecutor. The prosecutor will review the evidence to ensure it is sufficient to make a legal case and will manage the case when it comes before the Court. Depending on the charge laid and the maximum penalty that can be imposed on that charge, the case will either be dealt with by the Local Court or the Supreme Court. However all matters start in the Local Court.
Where an alleged offender indicates that he or she will plead guilty to the charge/s, this will go through to the appropriate Court fairly quickly for a plea and sentencing. The victim may complete a Victim Impact Statement that can be given to the Court as part of the submissions for the Judge to consider when deciding on an appropriate sentence. The offender will be given some sentencing discount by the Judge for an early plea as it means that the victim and witness will not have to give evidence on the matter.
Where an alleged offender is pleading not guilty and the matter is to be dealt with in the Local Court it will be set down for a hearing. The victim and witnesses will be given a summons to attend Court on that day to give evidence in front of a Judge. After hearing the evidence and the arguments put forward by the prosecutor and the defence lawyer, the Judge will make a decision of "Guilty" or "Not Guilty". If found guilty, the Judge will sentence the offender for the crime. If the alleged offender is not found guilty then the charges will be dismissed and they are free to go.
Where a witness fails to attend Court after being summonsed, the case may be adjourned or withdrawn. The Judge may issue a warrant for the witness to be arrested and brought to Court.
Where a case may go to the Supreme Court, witnesses may be called to give evidence at a committal hearing in the Local Court. This is a hearing to examine the strength of the evidence for the case before it is sent to the Supreme Court. If witnesses are called for this kind of hearing, they will be asked to confirm the information in their statement is true and correct and respond to questions from the defence about their statement. Once the Judge has considered the evidence and what he/she has heard from any witnesses that are called, they will make a decision on whether to commit the case to trial in the Supreme Court or discharge the case due to insufficient evidence. Where the matter then goes to trial, the witnesses will have to come to Court again to give evidence at the trial.
Where a case goes to the Supreme Court and the alleged offender pleads not guilty, it will be sent to Trial. This will be heard in front of a Judge and Jury. Witnesses for the case will be given a subpoena to attend Court and give evidence. Once the evidence has been heard the jury have to decide whether to find the alleged offender guilty or not guilty on each charge. If they find the person guilty on any of the charges, the Judge will then proceed to sentencing. If they do not find them guilty, the charges are dismissed and the person is free to go.
If the jury cannot decide either way, this is called a Hung Jury. In these cases, the jury is dismissed and the prosecutor must consider whether to run the trial again with a new jury or withdraw the matter. If it is run again the witnesses will have to re-attend and give their evidence again.
After a guilty plea or a finding of guilt, the Court will proceed to sentencing. Submissions are made by both the prosecutor and the defence lawyer about matters they think the Judge should consider when deciding on a sentence. This also includes providing the Court with the Victim Impact Statement if the victim chooses to complete one. The Court will take into account the facts of the case and the offender's prior criminal history and personal circumstances. The Court may request additional information such as Psychological Reports or Pre-Sentence Reports. In sentencing, the Court may use several options unless there is a mandatory sentence set out in legislation. Those options include:
In some of these options conditions can be placed on the offender which can include residential conditions, counselling, alcohol abstinence, alcohol and drug testing and restrictions on them contacting the victim directly or indirectly.
After a hearing or a trial where the offender is found guilty and sentenced, the offender may lodge an appeal against the guilty finding or the sentence that was imposed. Notice of the appeal has to be lodged within 28 days. If there is an appeal, where the offender was sentenced to imprisonment they may be bailed until the appeal is heard or else they will remain in custody. Another Judge is asked to consider the documents of case and the grounds for the appeal, if they find there are reasons to allow the appeal, they may direct there be a re-trial or re-sentencing. If they find there are not sufficient reasons to allow the appeal then they will dismiss the appeal and the original sentence will be imposed.
The Judge has the power to make decisions on simple offences and some indictable offences. For more serious indictable offences the Judge determines if there is enough evidence to refer the case for trial to the Supreme Court. They are addressed as 'Your Honour' and do not wear robes.
The court officers will call a defendant when the Judge is ready, record proceedings and call each witness to give evidence.
The prosecutor presents the case against the defendant. For both simple and indictable offences the prosecutor is a lawyer from the Director of Public Prosecutions who will prosecute the case.
A lawyer who acts for and speaks on behalf of the defendant. This may be a duty lawyer from the NT Legal Aid Commission, Northern Australian Aboriginal Justices Agency or from private practice.
The defendant is the person accused of committing the offence. If the defendant is in custody they will sit in the dock next to a correctional services officer.
People who the prosecution or defence call to give evidence to support their case. Both the prosecutor and the defence lawyer will ask the witness questions.
The public and media can sit in the public gallery to watch, unless the judge orders a closed court.
The judge controls the courtroom and ensures the evidence presented is relevant. If the accused pleads guilty or the jury finds the accused guilty, the judge will determine the sentence. The judge is addressed as 'Your Honour' and usually wears a wig and a robe.
The judge's associate wears a plain black robe and no wig and sits below the judge. They help the judge by reading out the charges, taking the accused's plea and asking the jury for its verdict.
In the Supreme Court it is the Crown that brings a matter for prosecution. A Crown prosecutor is a lawyer who works for the Director of Public Prosecutions. They present the case against the accused. The Crown prosecutor will wear a robe and a wig.
The accused is usually represented by a barrister and a solicitor. The barrister speaks on behalf of the accused. The solicitor gives instructions to the barrister on behalf of the accused. The barrister will wear robes and a wig, but the solicitor usually does not.
The jury is present if the accused pleads not guilty and the matter proceeds to a trial. The jury is made up of 12 people selected at random from the community. They decide if the accused is guilty or not guilty. The jury remains in court unless the judge is discussing a point of law with the lawyers.
The Sheriff's officer will sit or stand near the jury. They help everything run smoothly by calling all parties when the judge is ready, announcing the beginning and end of sessions, looking after the jury and calling witnesses to give evidence.
In the Supreme Court the defendant is referred to as the accused and is the person who is accused of committing the offence. They sit in the dock near a corrective services officer who is present at all times.
People who the Crown or defence call to give evidence. Both the prosecutor and the defence lawyer will ask the witness questions.
The public and media are able to sit in the public gallery to watch events unless the judge has ordered that the court should be closed.
There are a range of organisations that can help both defendants and victims of crime after a hearing.