Committal proceedings are the processes whereby an indictable charge is confirmed and indicted for a trial before the District or Supreme Court. In 2018, major reforms were made to criminal procedures in NSW. Previously, indictable offences had to be confirmed at a committal hearing prior to going to trial. However, the Early Appropriate Guilty Plea (EAGP) reforms changed this process, introducing:
- Early disclosure of the brief of evidence.
- Charge certification.
- Mandatory case conferencing.
- Fixed sentencing discounts for guilty pleas.
Under the new system, defendants no longer have the right to a committal hearing and the magistrate’s role is limited to overseeing the procedural steps.
Committal proceedings after the EAGP reforms
Indictable charges will undergo the following process before proceeding to a trial or sentence at the District or Supreme Court.
Service of brief
The EAGP reforms require the police to provide their brief of evidence, including non-admissible material, much earlier in the proceedings. The magistrate will order the police to serve the brief of evidence on both the Director of Public Prosecutions and the defendant or the defendant’s legal representative within eight weeks. A brief of evidence must include:
- All material that forms the basis of the prosecution’s case.
- Material reasonably capable of being relevant to the case for the accused.
- Material that would affect the strength of the prosecution’s case (i.e., might be useful for the defence).
This is to help the accused and the prosecution understand the nature and strength of the case as soon as possible, so that important practical decisions can be made in a timely manner.
Senior prosecutors form the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) are required to review the brief of evidence immediately after it has been served to determine the most appropriate charge(s). This includes assessing whether the evidence is sufficient to establish the elements of each offence charged by NSW Police. The senior prosecutor from the DPP may agree with the charges laid by NSW Police, or may vary the charges by adding or removing offences. The prosecution will then certify the charge(s) the prosecution are proceeding with in a document filed in the Local Court.
This is to ensure defendants know what they are charged with as early as possible and to encourage earlier guilty pleas. The involvement of a senior prosecutor is intended to stop the charges from being altered later in the proceedings.
After charge certification, senior prosecutors and the defence must participate in a case conference to discuss the charges and key issues in the case. It is essential that prior to the case conference:
- You and your solicitor have gone through:
- The offences you have been charged with.
- The material within the brief of evidence that the prosecution will use to attempt to prove those charges.
- Your solicitor has advised you of, and you have considered:
- All the defences available to you.
- The relative strengths of both the prosecution’s case and your defences.
- Any alternative charges that you may consider pleading guilty to, where appropriate.
Your solicitor should have your instructions on all these issues prior to the case conference.
Purpose of the case conference
The purpose of the case conference is for the defendant and solicitor to work together to:
- Determine whether the defendant is willing to plead guilty to the charges, or any alternative charges.
- Confirm whether the matter will be defended and go to trial.
- Identify additional evidence or information.
- Narrow contested issues.
- Identify any agreed or disputed facts.
- Resolve any other issues.
After the conference, both the prosecution and defence will sign a case conference certificate. This document will record any offers made by the prosecution and defence, and is the last opportunity to plead guilty while retaining the highest possible sentencing discount.
Witness hearings and committal
Although it is no longer the magistrate’s decision as to whether the matter proceeds to a full trial, they can order the attendance of witnesses and examine their evidence. The examination of a witness can be requested by either the prosecution or defence, and the purpose is to:
- Assess the strength of the prosecution’s case.
- Resolve a factual dispute.
- Narrow the issues for trial.
Once a magistrate is satisfied that the steps under the EAGP reform have been completed, they will commit the matter to trial unless the accused enters a guilty plea. If the accused intends to plead guilty, the matter is committed for sentence.
Sentencing discounts for appropriate early guilty pleas
Under the EAGP reforms, entering a plea of guilty for an indictable offence will automatically reduce the sentence. This is called the “utilitarian discount”, and applies because the accused is said to have contributed to the efficiency of the criminal justice system by not taking their matter to trial. The size of the reduction depends on when the accused pled guilty.
The discounts are:
- 25% if you plead guilty in the Local Court before the end of the committal process.
- 10% if you plead guilty up to 14 days before the trial is scheduled to begin.
- 5% if you plead guilty less than 14 days before the trial is scheduled to begin, or during the trial.
How can we help?
We are experienced in assisting clients with committal proceedings and early guilty pleas to obtain sentencing discounts.
Book a free consultation or call us on 1300 668 484 for 24/7 legal advice.