In Western Australia, there are three primary levels of court jurisdiction.The lower, intermediate, and superior levels – and cases are distributed between these, depending upon the type and seriousness of the crime that has been committed.
The Court of Petty Sessions hears the less serious matters, with the more serious matters being forwarded to the District Courts or Supreme Court. The District Courts hear indictable criminal cases, with the Supreme Court hearing the more serious cases, such as murder.
Court Of Petty Sessions – Criminal
The Court of Petty Sessions hears the bulk of cases from adults, 18 years or older, who have been charged with a criminal offence. This court filters out the less serious cases, sending the more serious matters to higher courts. The Court of Petty Sessions is presided over by a Magistrate, or two Justices of the Peace.
The Children’s Court is reserved for offenders who are under the age of 18 years old at the time of their offence. It has a criminal and civil jurisdiction.
District Court – Criminal
District Court is the middle court in the state’s legal jurisdiction, and has the jurisdiction to try most serious offences, besides those that carry a penalty of life imprisonment. Most of the matters heard within a District Court have been referred from the Court of Petty Sessions.
Drug Court is a specialist Court, which takes referrals from Court of Petty Sessions or District Courts in some W.A areas. The Drug Court is only available to defendants who are dependent upon drugs and who are considered eligible for the purpose of the Court. The eligibility requirements include such things as a willingness to participate, be likely to be sentenced to fulltime imprisonment if convicted in a normal court, be above 18 years of age and be dependent upon the use of prohibited drugs. Likewise, some people may be excluded from availing of the Drug Court if their offence involved violent conduct, if they have been charged with a sexual offence, suffering from a mental disorder or another reason that is determined by the referring court.
Drug Courts are a fairly modern concept in Australia, and have been included based on success with similar courts overseas. They address the underlying drug problem of the defendant, and based on that, allocate the defendant to appropriate treatment options. This is done with the intention of reducing recidivism.
Supreme Court – Criminal
The Supreme Court only hears the most serious criminal matters in Western Australia. As with the District Court, a Judge and jury, or a Judge sitting alone may conduct trials, the majority of which have been referred to the Supreme Court from the lower Courts, where there has been a question of fact or a question of law. The Supreme Court rarely conducts jury trials for indictable offences unless they are very serious, such as murder.
The Court of Criminal Appeal hears all appeals from the Supreme Court, District Courts and some Tribunals. The appeal process involves only looking at the disputed point, or error, of law, and not at the entire case. Three to five Judges, but no jury, will hear the appeal and base their decision on the evidence, as well as the arguments of both the Defence and the Prosecution. The Court may either dismiss the appeal – which means there will be no change, or allow the appeal and make a new decision on the case, or order a retrial.