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Court structure

The Magistrates Court

The Magistrates' Court of Victoria hears and determines all summary offences and indictable offences that can be heard summarily, where the accused person was 18 or over at the time of committing the offence(s) or 18 or over at the time of the court case and, in the case of indictable offences triable summarily, consents to having their case heard summarily.

Go to http://www.magistratescourt.vic.gov.au for further information about the Magistrates' Court of Victoria.

Appearing before the court

A defendant can appear before a magistrate in person, or be represented by a barrister or solicitor.

If the person is unrepresented and has been charged with a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment the court must ask them if they have had the opportunity to obtain legal representation, and if they have not, the court may allow an adjournment so that they can seek legal representation.

Which court room?

If you are going to court for a court hearing of charges you are facing, you should arrive at court by 9.30 am. Whilst court starts sitting at 10.00 am it is unlikely that yours will be the first case to be dealt with. Most courts display a list which sets out in which court each particular case is to be heard. You may also be able to check the court lists by looking in the law section of the newspaper, on the website of the relevant court or by calling the Court registry. If there is no such list you should speak to the court registrar.

If you are pleading guilty to the charges and the matter is simple, your case is likely to be over by lunchtime. If you are pleading not guilty it is possible that the case may not finish until late in the afternoon, or take several days or weeks, depending on the seriousness of the matter.

Courtroom procedure

Whenever you speak to a magistrate or judge, or if they ask you a question, you're expected to stand up. Magistrates and Judges should be addressed as "Your Honour". You're expected to stand up when a magistrate or judge enters the court, but there's no need to bow, as lawyers do. Attend the court where your case is to be heard so you can become familiar with the people, procedure and surroundings of the courtroom.

In argument the prosecutor may quote previous court decisions, or "case law" (common law precedents set by judges, from cases involving similar issues). If you have access to these law reports, you can also use them in argument, but they are not essential. The most important thing is to have your case well prepared, and to be thoroughly familiar with the issues and the evidence.