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​Court cases - the trial process

Trials in the District Court and Supreme Court

More serious cases are heard in the District and Supreme Court. These are cases that started in the Local Court and were committed to a higher court.

A trial in the District or Supreme Court proceeds in the same way as a summary hearing in the Local Court, but it is more formal. The Judge, Crown Prosecutor and Defence Barrister usually wear wigs and gowns. The courtroom is usually bigger and there are more court staff present.

Judges in District and Supreme Court trials are there to decide questions of law and procedure. In these courts, a jury usually decides if an accused person is guilty or not guilty.

Reading the charges

A trial starts with the formal reading of the charges by the judge's associate. These are read from the indictment.

Empanelling the jury

The 12 jury members are chosen from a large group of people who have been called to court for that day to do jury duty. Jurors are members of the public who represent the community. They have been chosen from the electoral roll.

Sometimes the prosecutor or the defence will not want a person on the jury. The prosecutor and the defence are allowed to object to up to three people each. This is called a challenge.

The judge's associate reads out the names of the witnesses. Jurors must tell the judge if they know anyone involved in the case.

Jurors must also take an oath or affirmation.

Judge's opening instructions to the jury

The judge talks to the jury about the court rules and their jobs.

Legal argument

Sometimes the prosecutor and the defence lawyers will argue about legal issues that need to be decided by the judge. This can happen at any time during the trial and is usually about what evidence is legally relevant and what can be heard.

The jury and the witnesses may be asked to leave the courtroom during this time.

Opening addresses

The prosecution tells the jury about the case against the accused.

The defence can also give an opening address to the court but they do not have to.

Witnesses are then called and asked questions by the prosecutor and the defence. Find out more about the job of a witness.

Closing addresses

After all the witnesses have given evidence the prosecutor and the defence lawyer will summarise their case to the Magistrate or Judge and jury. These summaries are called closing addresses.

If it is a District or Supreme Court trial with a jury, the judge will summarise the whole case and give the jury legal information and directions. This information helps the jury make a decision. This is called summing up.

You may want to hear this part of the case.

After closing addresses the jury, if there is one, will go into the jury room to decide their verdict.

The verdict

The verdict is when the accused is found guilty or not guilty. This decision is made based only on the evidence given in court and the relevant laws.

If the case was in the District or Supreme Courts in front of a Jury, it is the jury's responsibility to decide if the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or not guilty.

If there was no jury, the Judge will decide.

The Judge or Jury may take some time (hours or days) to decide the verdict.

When the Jury are considering the verdict, they may ask questions of the lawyers, or ask for some parts of the evidence to be made available to them - usually transcripts or tapes are used.

A Jury is encouraged to come to a unanimous verdict - this is where they all agree that the accused is guilty or not guilty.

If after a certain period of time the Jury can't all agree, then It is the role and decision of the Judge to give instructions to the jury about their options.

  1. The first option is that the jury can arrive at a majority verdict where only one person disagrees with the other jury members.
  2. The second option, if more than one person on the jury disagrees, is that there is a hung jury. If there is a hung jury, there may be another trial, with another jury.

If the Judge or Jury have any reasonable doubt about the accused person's guilt, the charge is dismissed and the accused is acquitted and free to leave the court. If they are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt, then the charge is proven and the accused is found guilty.

Once there is a verdict, the question of sentencing is considered. Please refer to Victim Impact Statements and Sentencing for more information.

Other scenarios

Retrial resulting from a hung jury

Not all trials end with a verdict of guilty or not guilty. If the majority of jurors cannot agree, it is called a hung jury and there is no verdict. The accused may then face a retrial which is a second trial, with another jury.

In some cases, the prosecution may decide that the evidence isn't strong enough to have another trial and direct that there are no further proceedings.

More serious crimes are more likely to be retried. You may have to give evidence at a retrial. The prosecutor will speak to you about giving evidence at a retrial.

Not Guilty Verdict by Direction

Sometimes, the evidence of the crime does not come out in court and the Judge will tell the jury to find the accused not guilty. This is called a verdict by direction.

Aborted Trials

Sometimes the trial may be stopped, or aborted part-way through.

This can happen for a number of reasons but usually because the jury has heard evidence that is considered by the Judge to be unacceptable in court or biased against the accused.

It can also happen if information about the trial or the accused is broadcast on the TV or the radio, or is reported in the newspapers. Sometimes the Judge forbids the publication of any material (makes a non-publication order) that may affect the result of the trial. For example, a media report may give details about an accused having been in jail or an opinion about the accused or a witness that would not be allowed to be heard by the jury in court.

When a trial is aborted, it has to start again on another day. You may have to give your evidence again.

A flowchart of the trial process

The trial process flowchart

You can also download a PDF of the trial process flowchart. (PDF, 136kb)