Courts in New South Wales
Three general jurisdiction courts exist in New South Wales: the Local Court, the District Court, and the Supreme Court.
New South Wales has the Supreme Court, the state’s highest court. Despite its limited jurisdiction, it hears the most severe criminal cases within the state. A New South Wales appeal can be made to the High Court of Australia by special leave, even though the Supreme Court is the highest in New South Wales.
In New South Wales, Sydney is home to the Supreme Court’s central court building, the Law Courts Building in Queen’s Square. A serious civil dispute involving more than $750,000 or a serious criminal case involving murder, treason, or piracy can be heard by the Supreme Court.
It also deals with a wide range of civil law issues, including:
- Cases involving contracts and negligence
- Issues involving equity (including trusts)
- Executors of wills and administrators in the event no will have been left and the deceased died without one.
- Ship-related matters (admiralty)
- Commercial building disputes.
The trial Division consists of three parts: Criminal Division, Common Law Division, and Commercial Court. Victoria’s High Court hears some of the most severe criminal and civil cases, including:
- Crimes such as treason, murder, attempted murder, and other significant crimes
- Civil cases may claim unlimited amounts of money
- Complex legal issues in civil cases
- Court appeals and judicial review appeals from the Magistrates’ Court and Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal
- We handle procedural matters such as bail applications; wills (representing the interests of the estates of the deceased); and injunctions (for instance, having someone stop acting in a certain way)
- Administrative decisions are subject to judicial review
- The corporation is important
A jury of 12 people selects a guilty or not guilty verdict based on the facts of a case in a criminal trial. The judge decides the rest, including punishment.
The judge decides an accused’s guilt if a criminal trial is conducted without an actual jury.
New South Wales is an ordinary law jurisdiction where criminal law was established and followed. As long as the principles and precedents set in a case are followed, judges determine most of the law related to criminal justice. However, parliamentary legislation can clarify or modify specific aspects of the law. Several new offenses, such as prostitutes or pimps soliciting, were created in 1908 by the Police Offences (Amendment) Act, which was subject to summary jurisdiction.
A second law raised the age of consent from fourteen to sixteen two years later, under the Crimes (Girls’ Protection) Act. Electricity fraud was also made a crime in a 1929 law. Several subsequent amendments to the Crimes Act (1900) made it a benchmark for prosecuting serious crimes. However, in New South Wales, the Criminal Code has not been consolidated like other Australian jurisdictions.
As a result, criminal law in New South Wales remains subject to case law and a variety of statutory provisions and different pieces of legislation that respond to historical changes.
Who attends court
During a criminal trial, the prosecutor from the Director of Public Prosecutions presents the evidence against the accused. Someone accused of a crime is referred to as the ‘accused,’ and a lawyer or a solicitor may represent them.
A civil trial involves the plaintiff (or applicant) – the person or entity that filed the civil suit – presenting evidence against the defendant. Plaintiffs often have solicitors and barristers representing them.
There can also be a solicitor or a barrister representing the defendant (or respondent) in a civil case.
A judge makes all decisions in a civil trial, including ordering one party to pay another or take specific actions to remedy a problem. The judge may occasionally ask the jury to answer a factual question in a civil trial. A jury may consist of four people.
Regional District Courts are established under the NSW District Court Act 1973. These courts are the most superior trial courts in Australia. Among the matters the NSW District Court can hear are:
- The term ‘serious criminal offenses’ generally includes murder, treason, manslaughter, drug offenses, sexual offenses but not drug offenses, etc.
- A civil lawsuit involving amounts of money up to $750 000 (or more significant amounts if the parties agree to have the matter decided by the District Court). The court has unlimited jurisdiction in personal injury claims from a motor vehicle accident.
- Children’s Court appeals and appeals from the Local Court.
District Courts in New South Wales hear most serious criminal cases. If the accused person chooses to have the matter heard alone, cases are heard by a judge and a jury of 12 citizens. Sometimes in civil cases, juries of four citizens are used to determine facts and damages. However, the use of juries in civil trials has decreased.
District Court Prosecution
Private solicitors cannot prosecute new South Wales District Court trials. Prosecuting severe criminal offenses in New South Wales District Court is the purview of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions of New South Wales.
District Court Representation
Obtaining legal advice and seriously considering legal representation is essential if you face charges of a serious criminal offense. You will unlikely be familiar with the complex legislation that governs NSW District Court Trials unless you are a trained and experienced criminal lawyer.
A defendant does not have to be legally represented in District Court. An accused may be represented by counsel or may represent themselves. A legal practitioner is generally the only person that actively participates in the District Court Trial Process.
The open Court is the usual format for District Court proceedings. A public forum means the public has the right to attend Court and watch the proceedings at any point during the process. In some situations, such as when children are involved, statutory provisions limit evidence publishing.
Local Court process
The accused must appear in Local Court on several occasions before taking part in a District Court trial. Local courts take a long time to process cases, sometimes over a year or more.
An NSW Police charge of a severe offense and multiple local court appearances will typically lead to the matter proceeding to the District Court.
The Director of Public Prosecution will prepare an indictment after a matter has been committed to District Court. Within a specified period after the committal, an indictment must be presented to the Court.
Having presented the indictment to the Court, the Court has jurisdiction to proceed with its proceedings. They can also issue subpoenas and amend the indictment with additional charges if necessary.
An arrest is the reading of the charges in an indictment to the accused and their entry of plea. A judge typically places the accused in the dock when the indictment is read. The accused will have the right to stand trial if they enter a guilty plea.
A trial court may order the conduct of the trial after the accused has been arraigned. If the court considers this will reduce delay, it will generally make the necessary orders. Whether such an order is appropriate (if any) is a matter for the court.
The Jury Act 1977 contains provisions concerning the jury. Before a trial begins, the sheriff summons a jury panel and is present in court. There are times when the judge will discuss with both counsels for the accused and the Director of Public Prosecution issues affecting the juror’s willingness or ability to serve. The District Court Trial begins once the jury is impaneled.
Sentences in district court
After trial or arraignment, if a defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty, the matter proceeds to sentence. The District Court may impose several different types of sentencing orders.
Please feel free to contact us for further details. We provide legal advice on the DOT.