Going to Court for a Criminal offence requires careful consideration and preparation. The consequences of being convicted of a criminal offence can cause problems for your future. If you are charged with a criminal offence, a decision needs to be made as to whether you “represent yourself” or go to Court with a Lawyer.
When deciding whether to represent yourself at Court, you need to ask yourself:
- You can spare the time, energy and resources needed to prepare the case;
- You have the required skills needed to defend yourself in court before the Judge and Prosecutors;
- You can remain clear headed and present the case without being too emotional;
- You can work under pressure without being intimidated by the Prosecution;
- You are in a position to afford a Lawyer or whether you qualify for Legal Aid.
If you do decide to represent yourself in Court, here are some practical tips to help you prepare for Court:
1. Legal Advice
A Lawyer can advise you on whether you should be pleading guilty or not guilty. A lawyer can discuss with you the strengths and weakness of the Police case. A Lawyer can also advise on the maximum penalties for a particular offence and give you an indication of what to expect. Before going to Court, you should seek some expert advice from an experienced Criminal Lawyer, as this is your best chance of avoiding a criminal record.
2. Case Preparation
It is important to be prepared before going to court. It is important that you read all documents relevant to your case.
Plan what you will say in Court. Prepare a list of things that you want to tell the Court about you and the offence.
Prepare references from people that can speak highly of your character. The person writing the reference must indicate that they are aware of the criminal charges to which you have pleaded guilty to. Ensure that you have copies of any references or documents that you wish to provide to the Court as the Prosecution may request a copy.
3. Court Appearance and Protocol
When you arrive at Court you should check the Court list. This list will show you the Courtroom which your matter will be heard in.
When you walk into the Court room, take a seat in the gallery. Remember to turn your mobile phone off.
When the Magistrate walks into the Courtroom, it is important to stand up and remain standing until the Magistrate is seated.
The Magistrate will call your name when they are ready to hear your matter. The Magistrate will then ask you to come forward towards the “bar table”.
When you are speaking to the Magistrate or asked a question, you are expected to stand up. When addressing the Magistrate refer to them as “Your Honour”.
The Magistrate will ask if you are seeking an adjournment, pleading guilty or not guilty.
If you are seeking an adjournment the Magistrate may adjourn you case if you provide a sufficient reason for the adjournment. An example might be that you wish to seek legal advice or prepare material for your case.
If you are pleading guilty, you may be sentenced on that day. The Magistrate can adjourn the matter for sentence if they feel a pre-sentence report is appropriate or allow you to enrol in a Traffic Offenders Program.
If you enter a plea of not guilty, the Magistrate will adjourn your matter for a hearing date. If you enter a plea of not guilty, it’s important that you check the availability of any witnesses you rely upon to ensure they are available to give evidence in your case.