Introduction to criminal procedure

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After being charged with a crime you will usually be required to appear in court. Criminal court procedures are dealt with by the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 (the Act), and by the associated Criminal Procedure Rules 2012 (the Rules).

The main stages of a criminal case for an adult under the Act are demonstrated below, steps from left to right:

Charged with a crime First appearance Second appearance Case Review Hearing Jury Trial Callover (jury trials only) Trial Sentencing (if required) Appeal (if required)

A more detailed overview of this process is available in the criminal case process flowchart [PDF, 283 KB]

Categories of offence

Criminal offences are categorised into one of four categories depending on the seriousness of the offence. This category influences how your case progresses through the justice system, including the type of trial your case may follow, and the court it may be heard in.

Each category of offence is outlined below. The most serious category of offence is category 4:

  • A category 1 offence is an offence that is punishable by a fine only. For example, careless driving. These offences will be heard in the District Court by a judge or community magistrate;
  • A category 2 offence is an offence punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of less than 2 years or an offence not punishable by a term of imprisonment, but with a community-based sentence as a maximum penalty. These offences can be heard in either the District Court or the High Court by a judge (rather than by a judge and a jury);
  • A category 3 offence is an offence punishable by a term of imprisonment for life or a maximum term of imprisonment of two or more years, excluding any offence listed in schedule 1 to the Act. These offences are generally heard in the District Court. A subset of category 3 offences, called protocol offences, can be heard in the High Court though (see note below for the process). Category 3 offences can be heard by either a judge, or by a judge and jury; and
  • A category 4 offence is an offence listed in Schedule 1 to the Act. These are the most serious offences, for example, murder or manslaughter. These offences will be heard in the High Court by a judge and jury.

Note: category 2 and category 3 offences may also be categorised as protocol offences. A protocol offence is an offence that has been established by the Chief High Court Judge and Chief District Court Judge under section 66 of the Act. Offences listed on the protocol will go to the High Court for a High Court judge to determine which court they should be heard in – District or High Court.

Protocol offence [PDF, 75 KB]

Section 66 of the Act (external link)

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Types of trial

There are two types of trial for proceedings under the Act. Most trials in the High Court will be jury trials:

  • A Jury trial is heard by a judge and jury. A jury is a group of 12 people from the community. It is their role to hear the evidence given in court, and to give a verdict on the basis of that evidence. A jury trial can be held for category 3 offences (where you elect jury trial) and for category 4 offences.
  • A judge-alone trial is heard by a judge only. It is usually held for category 1 or 2 offences and for category 3 offences, if you have not elected to be tried by a jury. Note: with category 3 offences, you have the choice of whether to be tried by a judge-alone or by a judge and jury. For more information refer to the information sheet about pleas and elections [PDF, 319 KB]

Why your case is in the High Court

There are a number of reasons why your proceeding is being held in the High Court, including:

  • because you have been charged with a category 4 offence and this is your second appearance; or
  • you have been charged with a protocol offence and a High Court judge has made an order (under section 68 of the Act) for your proceeding to be tried in the High Court; or
  • you have been charged with a category 2 or 3 offence and a High Court judge has made an order (under section 70 of the Act) that you be tried in the High Court; or
  • you are appealing a decision from a District Court judge or you have gained leave to appeal a decision of a community magistrate.

Protocol offence [PDF, 75 KB]

Section 68 (external link)

Section 70 (external link)

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Helpful hints

  • When dealing with the court, it's always best to do so in writing.
  • Keep a note of your case officer's name.
  • Keep a note of all future dates.
  • Make sure your address for service and contact details are up to date. It's especially important to make sure you have a reliable contact phone number.
  • Dress tidily.
  • Take a pen and paper to court to take notes.
  • Stand up when speaking to the judge, or when the judge is speaking to you.

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