Understanding the Criminal Justice Process in New South Wales: Summary Matters

Introduction

The criminal justice system in New South Wales is designed to ensure a fair and transparent process for individuals accused of crimes. From the moment of arrest to the final verdict, there are distinct stages that shape the trajectory of a criminal case. In this article, we step through summary matters in New South Wales, focusing on the arrest, arraignment, trial, and verdict stages. We will explain the crucial roles played by key parties, such as defence, prosecutors and the Magistrate, and discuss the rights and legal protections that are afforded to individuals accused of a crime.

​​Rights and Legal Protections on Arrest

When an individual is arrested in New South Wales, they have important rights and legal protections. These come from the Evidence Act 1995 and the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW) (LEPRA), and include:

  • The right to remain silent when questioned by Police.
  • The right to legal representation.
  • The right to a fair trial or hearing of their case by an impartial tribunal such as a Judge, Magistrate or Jury.
  • The presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • The right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against them.

Stages in a Local Court Criminal Case

The journey from arrest to verdict is a multifaceted process, composed of distinct stages each carrying its own significance and legal intricacies.

Arrest:

The criminal justice process can begin with an arrest, which occurs when law enforcement officers have reasonable grounds to believe that an individual has committed a crime. After the arrest, the individual is taken into custody, and their rights must be read to them, including the right to remain silent and the right to legal representation. The police may conduct an interview, but the individual does not have to participate in this interview.

Following an arrest, the individual may be taken to a police station and entered into custody. The police may take information including fingerprints, photographs or DNA. The person will be informed of their charges, and whether bail is available.  

First Mention:

The individual will receive paperwork, known as a Court Attendance Notice or “CAN”. The CAN will identify the charge/s and where and when the person needs to attend Court. The accused will be required to attend the Court on that date. In summary matters the individual will be required to enter a plea of either “guilty” or “not guilty”. 

In more serious matters, the police will need to serve a brief of evidence before you formally enter a plea under a scheme known as the EAGP Scheme. This article predominantly focuses on Summary matters. 

Entering a Plea of Not Guilty:

Once a plea of Not Guilty is entered, the matter will be set down on a later date for a Hearing in the Local Court. At the Hearing, the Prosecution will need to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high standard where the Magistrate hears all the evidence and must determine that there is no doubt of guilt. At the Hearing, the Prosecution will call evidence from witnesses or complainants. Those witnesses will be cross-examined. The Defence has a chance to also call evidence, such as alibi evidence, or a witness who was not called by the Police, although the Defence is not required to prove anything. 

At the conclusion of a Hearing, both the Prosecutor and the Defendant’s lawyer will make submissions.

Verdict:

After considering all the evidence and arguments presented, the Magistrate will deliver their verdict. The verdict can be “guilty” or “not guilty.” If the accused is found guilty, a sentencing hearing will take place to determine the appropriate punishment.

Roles of Key Parties in the Local Court 

At the heart of the Local Court process in New South Wales are three essential people: the prosecutor, the defence and the Magistrate, each fulfilling a vital role in the pursuit of justice and the safeguarding of individual rights.

Defence:

Defence lawyers represent the accused and ensure that their rights are protected throughout the legal process. They provide legal advice, build a defence strategy, and challenge the prosecution’s case in order to create doubt, as well as negotiate charges if it is in the best interest of their client.

Prosecutor:

Prosecutors represent the state and are responsible for presenting evidence against the accused. They have a duty to disclose evidence to the defence to ensure a fair hearing, and must prove the accused’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Magistrate:

A Magistrate presides over court proceedings and ensures that they are conducted fairly and in accordance with the law. They make legal rulings, provide directions, and may determine the sentence if the accused is found guilty.

Conclusion

Understanding the justice process in New South Wales is crucial for anyone charged with a criminal offence. From the initial arrest to the final verdict, this process is governed by strict rules and safeguards to protect the rights of individuals accused of crimes. It is essential for both defendants and the broader community to have confidence in the fairness and transparency of the criminal justice system.

If you find yourself facing criminal charges, the team at Maguire & McInerney are here to help. From minor traffic infringements through to serious crimes, our team has the knowledge and experience to help you get the best possible outcome. Reach out, and book an appointment today.