There are many crimes or offences. A lot are contained in the Crimes Act but many more are contained in other statutes both of the State and Federal Parliaments. The range of offences vary from murder down to parking.
Most criminal matters are commenced by the Police or the Director of Public Prosecutions by way of Court Attendance Notices (formerly known as Police Charges/ Summonses) and those charged with an offence will appear firstly before a magistrate sitting in a local court. In some cases, issues of bail may need to be considered.
Magistrates deal with over 90% of criminal matters summarily but the more serious offences are committed to the District Court or Supreme Court for trial before a judge and/or jury.
Unlike civil matters, criminal matters must be proved ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ having regard to the elements of the offence. This is when a solicitor’s professional knowledge becomes essential for the client (i.e. the person charged with an offence).
Police will normally have a fact sheet (which is not evidence but outlines the Police case) on the occasion of the first appearance before the court. With the fact sheet and instructions from the client, this will help the solicitor in deciding whether to advise the client to plead guilty or not guilty having regard to the elements of the offence. Sometimes an adjournment is necessary to obtain further information.
Once a plea is entered, the magistrate may adjourn the matter for hearing, sentence the client, commit the client for trial in a higher court or other options which may depend on the seriousness of the offence and the previous criminal history of the client.