What are committal proceedings?
Committal proceedings are Local Court proceedings for offences that will ultimately be dealt with by the District Court or Supreme Court of NSW. These proceedings are for offences that are generally more serious in nature, and carry heavier penalties. These offences are called “indictable” offences.
Why are my charges dealt with by Committal Proceedings?
If your case is going through Local Court Committal Proceedings, it is likely that the offences you face are too serious to be dealt with in the Local Court. This could mean that the charge/s you face are “strictly indictable” (can only be dealt with in a higher court), or that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has elected for your charges to be dealt with in a higher court. It is more often that your charges are “strictly indictable” charges as the reason why your case is the subject to committal proceedings.
What happens in Committal Proceedings?
Committal proceedings have many purposes. Generally, committal proceedings take place in order for the Local Court to test the evidence, and to see whether it is appropriate that the case goes to the District or Supreme Court.
Quite often the defence is given the opportunity to ‘test’ the evidence in a prosecution case in committal proceedings. Applications can be made by the defence to cross-examine witnesses in committal proceedings before the trial takes place in the higher court. Permission must first be granted to the defence to do so.
Committal hearings run similar to an ordinary Local Court hearing. However, there are stark differences between a Committtal Hearing and an ordinary Local Court ‘summary’ hearing. In a committal hearing, the Magistrate does not determine whether the defendant is guilty or not. He/she merely determines whether it is appropriate for the matter to go to trial, to put it simply.
Should my lawyer cross-examine witnesses in my committal proceedings?
This is a very difficult question to answer. An experienced criminal lawyer will make good decisions when determining whether or not to cross examine witnesses at the Local Court committal stage, before your trial. Sometimes the cross examination of a witness at committal can be a very valuable tactical decision made, whereas sometimes it can reveal the defendant’s case and can be detrimental to your pending trial.
Can I get my charges dropped at a Committal Hearing?
Yes, you can, if the evidence simply is not sufficient to order that it goes to trial. The tests that apply to the Magistrate in determining whether charges should be ‘committed’ to the District or Supreme Court are quite complicated. You should always have an experienced Criminal Lawyer represent you in court in committal proceedings.
If my charges are dismissed at the Committal stage, is it all over?
No, not necessarily. The prosecution have the option of initiating proceedings in the higher court against you. In NSW, these are called ‘ex officio’ proceedings. If the DPP are of the view that the Magistrate made a mistake, or they discover new evidence that was not available at the Committal hearing, they may often choose to initiate these proceedings.