What is a committal hearing in criminal law proceedings in Australia? This hearing occurs if the accused person, with the help of their legal representative, cross-examines the witnesses who have made statements against them. This hearing aims to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to justify a trial in a higher court. The hearing can also lead to the following:
- A Magistrate concluding that there is no sufficient evidence to support a conviction in a preliminary hearing. Therefore, the Magistrate will dismiss the matter at the Magistrates Court.
- The prosecution inviting submissions on a discontinuance, which may result in a withdrawal before the matter is heard by a jury.
- Inconsistent testimony, statements, or insufficient evidence from prosecution witnesses regarding the alleged indictable offence.
Depending on the case, a committal hearing can be a lengthy and complex procedure. Therefore, it’s important for accused people to prepare well if they want to defend themselves in the local court or higher court. Read on to know more information about a committal hearing and why it’s also important to seek legal advice.
Pleading Guilty or Not Guilty
If the accused pleads guilty
The Magistrate can decide whether or not they will accept the plea. Now, what happens if the Magistrate accepts the plea? The magistrate will then refer the person who pleaded guilty to the District court or Supreme Court for sentencing.
If the accused pleads not guilty
The Magistrate will decide whether or not the case should proceed to a trial. The accused should not speak or try to defend themselves during the trial if they do not have proper legal counsel. Anything the accused will say will be used against them.
Advantages and Disadvantages of a Committal Hearing
- Opportunity to challenge evidence: The committal hearing provides an opportunity for the defence to challenge the admissibility and credibility of the evidence presented by the prosecution. The defence can cross examine witnesses and argue against the strength of the prosecution’s case.
- Cost-effective: A committal hearing is generally less expensive than a full trial because it involves a shorter time period and fewer witnesses.
- Saves time: If the evidence is weak, a committal hearing can result in the charges being dropped. This can save time and resources especially if the accused’s legal team is well-versed in committal hearings.
- Risk of revealing defence strategy: In a committal hearing, the defence is required to reveal some of their case strategies to the prosecution. This can potentially give the prosecution an advantage in preparing their case for trial.
- Limited scope: The scope of a committal hearing is limited to determining whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. The defence is not able to present a full defence and may not be able to introduce all of the evidence it would like to.
- Risk of negative publicity: A committal hearing can attract negative media attention. This can damage the reputation of the accused, even if the charges are eventually dropped.
Categories of Committal Hearings in NSW
1. Waiver of Committal
This is the option of not having a committal hearing. If this is the case, the prosecution must agree to a waiver of committal which will then bypass the committal process and proceed to trial. This option is more common in some proceedings since they can save more time and money associated with the committal process.
2. Paper Committal
This option is for presenting a ‘brief of evidence’ (the statements, etc.) to the Magistrate. The Magistrate will then decide whether the evidence is enough for the case to proceed to the higher court. In practice, the magistrate will usually only have a quick look at the materials before transferring the case to the higher court. This option typically takes longer since it requires a thorough review from the Magistrate.
3. Defended Committal Hearing
This occurs if a witness is directly ordered to attend a committal hearing. There is no general right to have a witness attend a committal hearing. Hence, the accused must provide substantial reasons for the witness to be present to give oral evidence. A defendant may request that witnesses attend a committal hearing under Section 91 of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1986 (NSW).
How To Prepare for a Committal Hearing
1. Understand the charges: The accused should understand the charges they are facing and the evidence that the prosecution is presenting against them. They should also be familiar with the relevant laws and legal procedures involved in the proceeding.
2. Seek legal advice: It is crucial to seek legal advice from a qualified criminal defence attorney who has experience in handling committal hearings. Lawyers can explain the legal process, advise clients on their options, and represent them in court accordingly.
3. Gather evidence: Lawyers may aid in requesting evidence to be presented in court, which can help strengthen a client’s defence. This may include documents, witness statements, or video recordings.
4. Prepare testimony: A lawyer will help an accused prepare their testimony and ensure that they are well-versed in answering the prosecutor’s questions. This way, the accused will be able to properly and clearly deliver their statements with ease.
5. Follow the appropriate dress code: It is important to dress appropriately for court. Dressing professionally can help show respect for the court and may also help to create a positive impression with the judge.
6. Arrive early: An accused should arrive early on the day of the committal hearing. This allows time for any last-minute preparation and ensures that the accused is not late for the hearing.
7. Remain calm, respectful, and attentive: It’s essential to remain calm and respectful in court. The accused should avoid interrupting the judge or prosecutor, and follow all instructions given by the court. The accused should pay attention to everything happening during a trial and avoid getting distracted.
Our Criminal Lawyers’ Expertise
Accused individuals should seek legal advice when they are involved in a committal hearing. If they refuse to seek legal advice, they may risk losing their time, and money, and hurting their reputation. We at JB Solicitors can defend our client’s best interests during committal proceedings.
However, not all cases should end up in court. That’s why we also offer mediation and arbitration services for parties who don’t want to go through costly court procedures.
Contact us today if you choose to go through a committal hearing.