Most Victorian criminal law cases are heard in the Magistrates’ Court. This court has the jurisdiction to hear all summary offences (ie those punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment, such as drink driving and driving whilst suspended) and all indictable offences triable summarily. Your criminal lawyers Melbourne will be able to give you further advice as to whether your charges are likely to be heard in this court. If you have been charged with a more serious offence such as rape or culpable driving, the charges may initially be heard in the Magistrates’ Court for committal proceedings before proceeding to trial in the County Court or Supreme Court of Victoria.
The Victorian Magistrates’ Court includes specialist divisions. In addition to the basic mention court, which hears guilty pleas, there is also the contest mention court (which can require criminal lawyers and police to negotiate the resolution of charges) and courts for contested hearings. There is also a Koori court, a drug court, and the Criminal Diversion Program which allows offenders who have been charged with a first offence of modest seriousness to participate in the diversion program which leads to the offender being discharged with no finding of guilt. Participation in the Criminal Diversion Program ensures that the record of offending is not available to the public, including potential employers.
If you have been charged with criminal offences, but your case can be heard in the Magistrates’ Court, you should consider carefully proceeding in this court rather than taking the matter to trial. The advantages to proceeding summarily in the Magistrates’ Court are that there is a saving in time and money associated with the hearing. There is also a limit on the maximum penalty that can be imposed by a Magistrate hearing the matter. However, it would involve proceeding before a Magistrate and foregoing the right to trial by jury.
Following your Magistrates’ Court hearing, there are three options for further review of your case if you are not satisfied with the result. In most criminal cases, including traffic charges, there is the right of appeal to the County Court against the finding of guilt, and also against the penalty imposed. There is also a right of review in the Supreme Court in certain circumstances. Strict time limits apply, so that it is important to speak to your criminal lawyer early to discuss your options.
Before your criminal law case proceeds in court, it is important to obtain advice from a criminal defense lawyer. The lawyer can give you advice as to whether you should be pleading guilty or not guilty, and in the event of a guilty finding, how you can ensure that an appropriate penalty is imposed. Criminal defence lawyers can also give you advice as to the procedure which applies in your circumstances, so that you are kept completely up to date as to the stage of your proceedings as well as the risks and advantages of each step.