Photo courtesy of the Border Mail, Wangaratta 2016.
Some charges can only be heard in the County Court or the Supreme Court. Simple examples are murder, rape, arson and various kinds of sexual assaults.
Before an accused can be put in front of a jury, or a judge if he is planning to plead guilty, the prosecution must satisfy a Magistrate that there is enough evidence to justify sending the case from the Magistrates’ Court where these charges always begin to the County Court or the Supreme Court.
The hearing which takes place in the Magistrates’ Court before a jury trial is called a Committal. In simple terms, committal means committing a person to a higher court.
At this level, a Magistrate can throw a case out of court and there will be no trial.
If the accused is pleading not guilty, the accused is granted permission to cross-examine witnesses the prosecution rely on to test just how strong their evidence really is. The accused does not call witnesses at a committal and does not give evidence at a committal.
A Magistrate can throw a case out at the committal level, however this can be rare as the test is fairly simple for the prosecution to achieve.
The test is as follows: could a jury convict, not would a jury convict.
It is really important that the lawyer who handles the committal has a good knowledge of how the whole jury system works. At the committal everything is taken down in writing and this is what they call the Depositions.
Witnesses can find it very hard to veer away from what they said at the committal because at a jury trial, the jury will have brought to their attention any differences in the evidence at the committal and at the trial before a jury of 12. Some big decisions need to be made at committal level as to an overall strategy should the accused be committed for trial anyway.
This is the kind of work I have been doing for more than 30 years and I am a Law Institute Accredited Specialist in the Criminal Law area.