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A committal hearing is a preliminary hearing held in the Magistrate Court to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for an accused person to be committed for trial or for sentence.
If you are facing a committal, you have been charged with a serious offence, which is unlikely to be finalised in the Local Court. A committal is a hearing in the Local Court before the charge is heard in the District Court or Supreme Court.
In the committal hearing a Magistrate decides whether the prosecution has enough evidence for your case to be committed for trial, or sentence. If there is enough evidence and the case is serious enough, your case will be decided by a Judge and a jury in the District or Supreme Court.
You do not have to enter a plea at the committal. However, if you plead guilty your matter will be committed for sentence unless the prosecution decides that it can stay in the Local Court. If you plead not guilty or enter no plea your matter will be committed for trial.
If you have been granted legal aid for your committal, it is a condition of the grant of legal aid that your legal representative attends a case conference. A case conference will give your representative and the prosecution the opportunity to work out whether your case will proceed to a trial or become a sentence. The case conference will only be carried out when your solicitor has taken instructions from you. Your case will only be committed for sentence if you decide to plead guilty. If you plead not guilty or enter no plea when you appear at a trial in the District Court or Supreme Court, a jury will decide whether or not you are guilty.
During the committal hearing, the role of our GMH Legal criminal team will be as follows:
- To have the charges against you set aside
- To ascertain all the evidence against you
- To master the content of your case in preparation of your potential trial
PROCEDURES DURING A COMMITTAL HEARING
There are seven procedures during a committal hearing:
- At least 14 days ahead of the committal hearing, you will be presented with a copy of the prosecution’s case/declarations and its list of witnesses. You will need to inform the prosecution whether you want any of their witnesses to give oral evidence at the committal and be available for questioning by you or your solicitor.
- Depending on the offence you are charged with and the evidence to be given by the witness, you will need to convince the magistrate that there are either substantial reasons or special reasons why the witness should be required to give oral evidence.
- The magistrate can impose limits on the extent of the cross examination of the witnesses.
- The magistrate will decide whether there is enough evidence to commit you for trial (if you have pleaded not guilty or not entered a plea) or for sentence (if you have pleaded guilty).
- If the defendant is charged, the magistrate will ask the defendant whether he/she wants to say anything in answer to the charge or enter a plea.
- If the defendant pleads not guilty, the defendant will be committee to trial.
- If the defendant pleads guilty, the defendant will be committed for sentencing.
Should I give evidence during the committal?
If you want to give evidence:
- You will have to go into the witness box and give your evidence under oath or affirmation
- The police can cross examine you
If you decide not to give evidence:
- You or your lawyer can question the police and the police witnesses about the evidence they have provided
- You cannot address the court to submit your version of events
How does the magistrate decide whether to commit the matter for trial?
The magistrate must decide if there is a reasonable possibility that a jury would convict you.
If the magistrate decides that a jury would not convict you, you will be discharged. If the magistrate makes the decision to commit the matter for trial, you will be asked whether you want to say anything or call evidence.
What happens after the committal?
If a magistrate commits an accused person for trial, the accused person must enter into a fresh bail undertaking and the matter is committed to the appropriate higher court. Few months later an indictment will be presented to the Court, which is a document containing the charges to be hear by the higher court.
If a person is not committed, the proceedings are dismissed.
For more information, please refer to the Legal Aid’s ‘Are you facing committal’ section.
At GMH Legal, we can help you understand the elements that the police has to prove in addition to help you highlight the parts of the prosecution’s brief you agree with or disagree with.
CROSS EXAMINATION OF PROSECUTION WITNESSES
What should you proved to cross examine witnesses during committal proceedings?
According to Section 91 of the Criminal Procedure Act, the magistrate will only order that a witness be cross-examined in committal proceedings if there are substantial reasons why, in the interests of justice, the witness should attend to give oral evidence.
Can I cross-examine victims of violent offences?
The law has changed significantly recently and there are now requirements upon a person accused of a serious crime to provide the reasons why they want to cross-examine witnesses before the court will allow it.
According to Section 93 of the Criminal Procedure Act, the magistrate must not order that an alleged victim of a violent crime be cross examined in committal proceedings unless there are special reasons why the alleged victim should, in the interests of justice, attend to give oral evidence.
The following offences are offences involving violence:
- Prescribed sexual offence
- Attempts to murder
- Wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm
- Infliction of grievous bodily harm
- Abduction or kidnapping
What is a paper committal?
If no application is made for the attendance of any prosecution witnesses, the committal proceedings will proceed by way of the brief of evidence as tendered by the prosecution.
Originally, all prosecution witnesses were called to give oral evidence at a committal hearing. This has been substantially curtailed in recent years so that the vast majority of committal hearings are only determined on the brief of evidence tendered by the prosecution to the magistrate.
PROS AND CONS OF A COMMITTAL HEARING
The advantages of a committal hearing are as follow:
- New evidence may be uncovered at the committal before the trial
- Weaknesses in the prosecution’s case may be discovered
- Your charge may be dismissed
The disadvantages of a committal hearing are as follows:
- The Police gets a chance to fix its case
- Witnesses are already prepared for your cross-examination during the trial
- New evidence may be uncovered at the committal
Call the experienced team at GMH Legal to assist you in your matter.
A free consultation with GMH Legal is an opportunity to gain deep insights into your legal situation and all of your options.
Why Choose GMH Legal?
- Over 60 years of combined legal experience
- Outstanding track record with a winning approach
- First appointment is always free
- Meet our team now.