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Going to court  

There are special stages and procedures required by law to ensure that going to court is fair and just for all. Learning about court and these stages can help you to be more comfortable and secure during the court process. There are people who can support you through the process. There is also a diagram, or flowchart, which shows the general stages of the process.

    The courtroom

    Getting some information about being a witness and learning about how the court works can help to better understand what is happening and what people's roles are. Visit the Justice Journey section of this website to know more details about the NSW court system.

    It's a good idea to go to the courthouse to see what it looks like, find out who will be in court and who may ask you questions. The Witness Assistance Service or NSW Health Sexual Assault Service will usually organise a visit with you before you give evidence.

    Visit the Justice Journey section ​of the Victims Services Website to take a courtroom tour.

    First court appearance

    The accused person's first court appearance is at the local court. This is a brief appearance and is called a mention. There is usually no need for victims or witnesses to attend on the first court date, unless they wish to see each stage of the legal process.

    The question of bail may be reconsidered by the Magistrate, who will decide if bail should be continued, changed, granted or refused.

    The Magistrate has to consider a number of different matters before deciding to grant bail. One important matter is the protection of the community, particularly when the accused is charged with a serious and/or violent offence.

    Bail can be reviewed at any time before the case is finished. Both the defence and the prosecution can ask for changes to be made. For example, if an accused breaks one of the conditions of bail, then the prosecution can ask the court to refuse bail or apply different conditions.

    Sometimes a higher court (usually the Supreme Court) may be asked to reconsider a bail decision.

    A victim has the right to be informed of any changes to bail conditions.

    After the first court appearance

    The case may go back to court a number of times for further mention to sort out what is to happen with the case.

    At some stage the accused will be asked to make a plea of guilty or not guilty to the charge. If the plea is not guilty then the case will be set down for a committal hearing at a later date.

    Sexual assault cases (known as indictable offences) are usually sent to the District or Supreme Court, even if the accused pleads guilty.

    The committal hearing    

    If the accused pleads not guilty to a serious offence at the local court, there is usually a committal hearing.

    In many committal hearings only the written statements of evidence (the brief of evidence) are presented by the prosecution. The defence does not usually call evidence at this stage, although sometimes the victim may be called to give evidence. In sexual assault cases victims who are children cannot be called to give evidence and it is rare for adult victims to be called.

    After hearing or reading the evidence, the magistrate decides if there is enough evidence to go before a jury. If not, the accused is discharged and this is the end of the case.

    If there is enough evidence then the case is sent (that is, it is committed) to hearing or trial,in the District Court.

    Gathering evidence

    After the accused person's first appearance in court, the police will prepare a brief of evidence for the local or district court if the accused has pleaded not guilty. A brief of evidence is all the written statements, charges and exhibits that the prosecution relies on to prove the case against the accused, including any statement made by the accused.

    The police may also collect physical evidence about the crime, such as items of clothing, fingerprints, blood samples, documents, weapons or other things, which might help prove the case against the accused. These are called exhibits.

    Sometimes experts are used to examine the crime scene or other evidence or give an opinion about some part of the case. Experts may produce DNA samples and their evidence may form part of the brief.

    Police must be thorough and fair in their investigation or the magistrate or judge may refuse to allow the evidence to be given in court.

    A victim has the right (Charter of Victims Rights 4 and 5) to obtain information about the progress of a police investigation of the crime, the prosecution of the accused and the trial process, through the police or Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. This information should be made available, except where it could harm the investigation and progress of the case.

    Preparing the case      

    The lawyers also use the time between court appearances to work on the case. A case may have to go back to court a number of times for mention before it is finally set down for hearing.

    If the case is sent to a higher court for trial or sentence then all the evidence given at the local court is considered by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to see whether the case should go to trial. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions also decides what the formal charge(s) (indictment) should be.

    Sometimes for a number of reasons, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions may decide to discontinue the case and the accused does not have to go to trial. You will be contacted to discuss this decision by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

    The accused may be charged with more than one crime. The police and the prosecution may decide not to proceed with all these charges.

    Waiting    

    Because courts are very busy, every case has to wait its turn to be heard. It can take some time before your case is finally heard due to adjournments and delays, such as witnesses or courts not being available, the accused not having or changing their legal representative, the accused needing professional assessments or the waiting on crucial evidence.

    However, District courts must closely manage all sexual assault cases and deal with them as quickly as possible.

    It is important to know that there are people who can support you through all stages of the process and explain to you about how the law works and about your case. The Witness Assistance Service, which is part of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and Sexual Assault Services, assist victims and witness in sexual assault matters.