Pleading Not Guilty in the Magistrates Court
What is meant by “pleading not guilty”?
When a criminal offence charge has been made against someone, the accused can select to plead not guilty or guilty. Pleading “not guilty” means a denial that the offence has been committed. The facts surrounding the alleged offence will be presented to the court in a document referred to as the ‘statement of the material facts’ for a firm decision to be made.
This should have been read by the accused to see if the facts are true. If they appear to be untrue then a lawyer should be consulted. At this point a date for a trial will be established where evidence is presented and the court will decide if the person is guilty.
Is legal advice necessary before pleading not guilty?
It is a good idea to seek legal advice so an understanding is gained of the court process. This will include:
- how serious the charge is;
- the court procedure;
- what the prosecution will do;
- likely penalties if found guilty;
- the strength of your defence.
What is the role of the Supreme and District Courts?
These courts deal with charges that cannot be dealt with in the magistrate’s court. It is important to get legal representation for these court appearances.
Who Provides Representation and Legal Advice?
There are duty lawyers available but they cannot represent clients in the Supreme or District Courts but representation should be organised with a lawyer before the court appearance. A duty lawyer present in a Magistrates Court can assist in getting an adjournment so there is enough time to access the services of an appropriate lawyer for a Supreme or District Court appearance.
Pleading Not Guilty in a Magistrate’s Court
Once a not guilty plea has been lodged the court will put the case on a trial list where the magistrate will listen to evidence and decide if you not guilty plea is correct. The trial date normally occurs two to three months following the not guilty plea.
Is it necessary to make a court appearance before the date of the trial?
On occasions a defendant may be required to attend a “directions hearing” or a ‘callover date,’ which takes place before the date of the trial. The magistrate will check the case’s progress.
Will the Prosecution Provide any Pre Trial Information?
The prosecution might be compelled to offer some facts about their case against the accused before the date of the trial. This is a pre-trial disclosure. Your lawyer will ensure that you have been given the required information. It might be necessary for you to supply relevant information to the prosecution too. Your lawyer will advise you on this.
At the Trial
Preparation before the trial should include questions you may wish to ask the prosecution’s witnesses and ensure you have read the facts surrounding the case. At any time you can change your plea.