As a result of new legislation introduced in 2018, committal hearings and the administrative procedure that formerly existed prior to committal hearings have been significantly modified. Under the 2018 legislative changes, the Local Court no longer conduct committal hearings. However, serious criminal matters are still “committed” to be heard in the District Court and the Supreme Court. You can learn about these changes here.
What was a committal hearing?
Some criminal offences cannot be heard in the Local Court, but only in the District Court or the Supreme Court. Ordinarily, these two courts, which are superior in the court hierarchy, are reserved for more serious types of offences. These matters are not only typically more serious but are also usually more complicated in terms of both the prosecution case and the defence case. As the matters are more complex, they require a significant amount of preparation; this in turn can create delays.
To ensure the efficiency of the justice system, these matters remain in the Local Court until they are ready to proceed to trial or sentence. Once parties had reached that stage, under the old regime, the matter would then be listed for a committal hearing.
At a committal hearing, a Magistrate was required to read and consider all the evidence the prosecution was relying on to establish the offences the defendant had been charged with. The Magistrate had to determine whether “taking the prosecution case at its highest”, the prosecution could prove the elements of each of the offences. Taking a case at its highest meant considering the evidence without having to consider the defences that were going to be raised in the defence case, or whether the prosecution’s case could establish the guilt of the accused, rather than whether it would establish the guilt of the accused.
If the prosecution case was established to the requite level at the committal hearing the matter was committed to either the District Court or the Supreme Court for trial. If the Magistrate found that the prosecution case (taken at its highest) could not establish the elements of an offence, then the magistrate could dismiss the charges.
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