The Local Court, or Court of Summary Jurisdiction, is the forum in which the vast majority of criminal matters are heard and determined. Applications for Domestic Violence Orders and Personal Violence Restraining Orders are also made in the Local Court.
The highest penalty that a Local Court Judge can impose for an offence is five years in prison, even if the maximum penalty for that crime is higher. Some very serious crimes such as Unlawfully Causing Serious Harm, Robbery, and Murder cannot be finalised in the Local Court. The role of the Local Court for these serious offences is to hold a ‘committal’ or ‘preliminary inquiry’ to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the accused to be placed on trial in the Supreme Court.
Youth Justice Court
The Youth Justice Court hears cases where the defendant was under 18 at the time of the alleged offending. The procedural rules and sentencing outcomes available in the Youth Justice Court differ from the Local Court.
If the Youth before the Court is under 15 years old the maximum penalty the Court can impose for an offence is 12 months in Juvenile Detention. If the Youth is over 15 years old the maximum term which can be imposed is two years in Juvenile Detention.
Offences alleged against youths carrying life imprisonment such as Arson, Robbery, or Murder, can only be determined in the Supreme Court. Other serious matters in the Youth Court can be sent to the Supreme Court depending on the circumstances.
An appeal will take place where a party alleges that an error has been made in a decision about a case. A higher Court will then determine whether an error occurred and if so, what the appropriate remedy for that error should be. Sometimes the appellate Court will substitute the original decision for a decision of its own, other times it will remit the matter back to the lower Court to be determined in accordance with the correct legal principles.
Appeals from the Local Court and Youth Justice Court will usually be heard by the Supreme Court. Criminal appeals against a decision of the Supreme Court will typically go to the Court of Criminal Appeal to be determined. An appeal against a decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal can be decided by the High Court of Australia.
Appeals are not a rehearing of the case where the evidence is taken again and all of the same issues are decided. Appeals are run on specific ‘grounds’ which allege errors on the part of the lower Court. Appeals frequently involve an in-depth analysis of the relevant legal principles and technical legal arguments on how those principles should be applied.
Legal expertise is essential in properly advancing a case on appeal.
The Northern Territory Supreme Court hears the most serious criminal cases. There is no limit on the sentences that the Supreme Court can impose aside from the maximum penalty for the offence itself.
If a person wishes to contest their charges in the Supreme Court the case will be listed for a trial. The evidence against the person will be placed before a Jury of 12 people selected at random from the community. The jury decides whether the accused person is guilty or not guilty of each crime alleged.
The Supreme Court also hears appeals from the Local Court and Youth Justice Court. These appeals will usually be against a finding of guilt, a sentence imposed, or both. Other interlocutory or procedural decisions can also be appealed to the Supreme Court.
The police only have the powers that are given to them by the law. Everything that the police do, from pulling over a car for a random breath test, to making an arrest, all require careful examination of whether these powers are being deployed in accordance with the law.
Decisions as to when and under what circumstances the police can use their powers are intricate and require informed forensic judgment. Experience has demonstrated that police regularly deploy their powers without a full understanding of the law, or without proper regard to the basis for the exercise of the power.
In any matter where the police have acted improperly or unlawfully it may be possible to exclude evidence obtained as a consequence of that breach. In some cases this can amount to a complete defence of the charges.
Expert analysis of the evidence is the best method in ensuring that a person’s rights have been adhered to in any case.
Pleading Guilty or Not-Guilty
In almost every case the accused person will eventually be asked if they wish to plead “guilty” or “not guilty”. They will literally have to say “guilty” or “not guilty” in the courtroom. This decision should be an informed one in which the accused person is aware of the consequences of both decisions.
Pleading “guilty” means accepting criminal responsibility for the acts they have been charged with. There should also be a set of ‘agreed facts’ that the person understands they are pleading guilty to. The ‘agreed facts’ is the story about what happened that will be read to the Judge in Court. The Judge will decide how serious the offence is based on the agreed facts.
When a person pleads guilty they have much more scope for convincing the Judge that they are remorseful for their actions and are accepting responsibility for their conduct. This will be viewed favourably by the Court.
There is also a ‘utilitarian discount’ on the sentence given to those who plead guilty. This is a reduction in sentence to reflect the time and resources the community has saved by not having to have had the charges proved in Court, and also the fact that the victim(s) have not had to go through the potential trauma of giving evidence. The discount for pleading guilty can be up to 25% of the overall penalty for a plea which is entered at the first available opportunity.
If the person wishes to accept their guilt but the underlying facts cannot be agreed with the prosecution then the case can be listed for a ‘disputed facts hearing’. This is where evidence is taken to determine what occurred. The accused person risks losing their utilitarian discount and the other benefits of pleading guilty if this course is taken. In some cases, this will be necessary if contested material facts are alleged without a proper foundation.
Pleading “not guilty” is simply the accused person saying that they do not accept criminal responsibility for what is alleged. No contested charge can succeed against a person unless each element of that offence is proven with admissible evidence. The prosecution must prove each charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
No person can be punished for fighting the charges against them. The requirement that criminal accusations must be proven before a person can be punished is a fundamental aspect of the rule of law. It is intertwined with the presumption of innocence. Many persons deny in whole, or in part, what is alleged against them by the police.
If a person pleads “not guilty” in the Local Court then their case will be listed for a ‘Hearing’ before a Local Court Judge. If a person pleads “not guilty” in the Supreme Court then their case will be listed for a trial before a Supreme Court Justice and a jury. Usually, witnesses will be required to come to Court to testify about the matter. Other materials such as photographs or DNA results might also be presented to the Court. Both the prosecution and the defence will have the opportunity to call evidence and question witnesses. Once all of the evidence has been heard the lawyers on both sides will make arguments as to the appropriate outcome. The Judge or jury will then decide whether they are satisfied with the defendant’s guilt to the requisite standard.
Making an informed decision on how to plead is vital to achieving the best possible outcome in your case. Expert advice on this is highly recommended.
This content is intended as general legal information only and should not be considered as legal advice relevant to any particular case. Territory Criminal Lawyers takes no responsibility or liability for any legal decisions based in whole or in part upon this legal information.