This section covers:
- court day checklist
- what to wear to court
- how to get your case on
- what to call the magistrate
- entering the plea
- reading the facts and the prior record
- making your submission
In preparing for the day of court you should complete this checklist:
Court day checklist
- Do you have your prepared submissions?
- Do you have your references?
- Do you have some evidence of your income and have you calculated how much you can afford a month should you receive a fine?
- Have you located and informed a member of the court staff of:
- Your name;
- The offence you have been charged with;
- That you are pleading guilty;
- That you are representing yourself?
- Have you got your licence with you? (You are obliged to bring it to court if it has not been confiscated already.)
You will need to set aside the entire day. Whilst some courts adhere to strict order, most do not. In some courts the unrepresented are shunted on when time permits. On the other hand many courts allow those who are self-represented to go before the court early in the day. It is just a matter of luck.
What do I wear?
It is important that you dress neatly to appear in court to show an appropriate degree of respect. For men it is not necessary to wear a suit, although a tie certainly is appropriate. For women, neat formal clothes are suggested. Dress smartly, but not so that you feel uncomfortable.
How do I get my case on?
You should arrive at the court at least 30 minutes before the scheduled start (usually 9.30 or 10:00 am) on the day of your appearance. If you are in the city there may be more than one court sitting, and the first task is to locate which court you are in. You should ask the staff at the office to locate your name on the list and advise you which court you are in. Some courts have voluntary court support workers who can also assist to find your name on the list.
The next step is to locate a member of the court staff to inform them that you are present and will be representing yourself. This is not an unusual position as many people represent themselves in the court each day. The first place to look for a member of the court staff is outside the courtroom. They often do not wear uniforms and so can be hard to find. If there are any problems, find a police officer as they can usually point you in the right direction.
Once you have located the court officer, you should tell them your name, your offence, that you will be pleading guilty and that you are representing yourself. Ask if you may wait inside the court. This is the best place to be as you can see the court in action, familiarise yourself as to the procedures, the roles and functions of the court personnel, and watch some other cases dealt with before your own. You may be able to pick up some tips as to what this particular magistrate's attitude is toward various offences.
The process in outline is as follows:
- Your name is called out.
- The court staff or the magistrate will tell you where to stand.
- The magistrate may ask you whether you are represented or you are representing yourself. You reply:
"I am representing myself, your Honour"
- The magistrate will ask you if you are pleading guilty or not guilty. You reply:
"Guilty, your Honour."
- The police prosecutor will hand to the magistrate your facts (in some courts the facts will be read to the court) and any prior record after you have had the opportunity to see them. The magistrate will ask you what you want to say. You then hand up your references and make your submissions.
- The magistrate determines the penalty.
The role of the magistrate is clear - he or she is the one who controls the court and determines the penalty to be applied. The prosecutor is a police officer whose role is to present the allegations to the court. They do not usually make submissions to the court as to a penalty.
What do I call the magistrate?
From 3 May, 2004 magistrates should be addressed as 'your Honour'. This replaces the previous term of respect, 'your Worship'. Some people really embarrass themselves by referring to the magistrate as 'Your Holiness', perhaps more appropriate for the Pope, and 'Your Excellency', reserved for ambassadors.
Entering the plea
The magistrate will say:
"Do you plead guilty or not guilty?"
"I plead guilty, your Honour."
Reading the facts and the prior record
When this occurs you must read the fact sheet and any previous criminal record very carefully. The police facts will usually be an accurate record of what occurred including any comments that you made about your drinking at the time of your arrest. Occasionally the police version differs from your own, and if it is an important discrepancy you should make a note of that and clarify it in your submissions. Important discrepancies relate to the standard of your driving on the day of the arrest, your explanation or version given at the time of your arrest, and any other matter that paints you in a poor light that is not correct.
If the police facts are vastly different from what occurred, or the prior record is incorrect, you should ask for an adjournment and seek legal advice as described below.
Making your submission
You should read your submissions slowly and carefully, and make as much eye-contact with the magistrate as possible. Remember to wait for the magistrate to read your references. Your submissions should not last more than 5 minutes. The microphones in the courtrooms do not usually amplify the sound, only record it, so remember to speak up loudly and clearly.
Ensure you have read through your submissions several times first and you will find it much easier to keep a good level of eye-contact.
If for some reason you do not wish to have your case heard on the day indicated on the court attendance notice you may request that your case be adjourned to another day. When you receive your court attendance notice it should have attached to it a form called a "Written Notice of Pleading". You should complete this form, indicating that you will be pleading guilty and request that the court list your matter for hearing on a later date. The form will need to be signed in front of a Justice of the Peace and returned to the court at least 5 days before the date of the hearing shown on the court attendance notice.
You will need to indicate on the form that you will be representing yourself at the court hearing so that notification of the new hearing date is sent to you.
If you cannot be there on the day for an urgent reason and you have not returned the "Written Notice of Pleading" you should write to the court, explaining the reasons and enclosing a medical certificate or other supporting evidence. The magistrate may grant an adjournment. On the other hand some magistrates will not, and you may be dealt with in your absence. If this occurs you should seek legal advice with a view to having the matter re-heard.
If you have arrived at the court on the day of your matter and for some reason need to have the matter adjourned, you should inform the court officer that you will be seeking an adjournment.
The magistrate will call your name and you should say:
"Your Honour, I seek an adjournment for a period of 14 days to (obtain legal advice)..."
You will need to convince the magistrate that there is a good reason for needing the adjournment. These may include that you need to seek legal advice, obtain references, attend an exam or job interview or attend a drink-driving program.
It is important that you are prepared when your case comes up again, as the magistrate may not allow you to adjourn the matter a second time.
Where a person has been charged with an offence which requires a period of disqualification, such at Mid Range PCA, it is the practice of some magistrates to adjourn the matter for a period of time, say three months. The effect of this is that when the defendant comes back before the court, the police suspension has had him or her off the road for three to four months and the magistrate is able to deal with the matter pursuant to s10 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999. (See The penalty.)
It is difficult to know whether a particular magistrate will proceed in this manner. You may pick up some tips as to the particular magistrate's attitude by watching some of the cases dealt with before your own.