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Before court

Facing the court can be a time and resource-consuming exercise. Cases particularly if you are pleading not guilty can drag on for considerable amounts of time. It is vital for you and the campaign to have a long-term commitment to this process.

Support from other campaign/group members, family and friends will make a real difference in how you experience the court process. Because courts operate in relation to individuals, people are made to feel isolated from fellow arrestees and activists. This is a strategy of the legal system. This means a campaign or activist group must be prepared to invest time and resources into supporting those facing the court.

Charge sheets

A charge sheet is issued directly after your arrest or by mail summons. The charge sheet names the offences you allegedly committed and states in what section of which Act they are included. Also included is the name and station of the informant, usually the arresting office. Looking up the Act and reading the full text of the section may reveal defences you could use.

Charges for summary offences cannot be laid more than 12 months after the event (section 26(4) Magistrates' Court Act 1989 (Vic) ).

Information sheets are usually attached to the charge sheet, for example saying that under the Magistrates Court Act 1989 (Vic), you can ask for a copy of any material they intend to use to prosecute you with. By writing and asking, you may receive copies of any video footage or still photos, or access to viewing them.

Visit a court

It can be useful to familiarise yourself with a courtroom before your case is heard. Courts are open to the public. The physical layout of a courtroom can be intimidating and it is a good idea to get used to the space so that when you are in a court setting, you are more comfortable and therefore better able to put forward your case. Also, it allows you to see another case being heard and get a sense of the court process.


Many activists find themselves facing the court in a different state or territory from where they live. This can mean travelling great distance for a court appearance that may be adjourned on the day.

This could affect the way you plead (whether guilty or not guilty), as resources, time constraints, work etc may make it difficult for you to travel to court.

Showing up

You should be in court for every hearing. Although sometimes you can arrange to have a lawyer appear for you at a hearing, it is almost always better to be there in person. Statistics show this regarding the changes of success and the penalty imposed.

Your presence shows the court (and the media) that you care about the case and that you are ready to fight. Also, being there ensures that you will have input into decisions and negotiations that come up in court.

If you have a trial, you have to be in court for every day of it. If you miss a scheduled hearing, the judge could issue a warrant. If you have an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court, and get into any kind of trouble (e.g. your car gets pulled over), you'll probably be arrested.

Judges may accept extreme excuses for missing a hearing, like funerals or medical emergencies. Conflicts with school or work are not acceptable excuses. Medical certificates are no longer deemed adequate; a letter from a hospital confirming hospitalisation will suffice.