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Pleading Guilty (NT)

When a person in the NT is charged with criminal offences, they will have to choose between contesting the charges and pleading guilty. There are a number of matters that should be considered before a person goes ahead and pleads guilty to a criminal offence. This article outlines some of the issues that should be taken into account before pleading guilty in the NT and the processes involved in finalising a plea in the summary jurisdiction.

Should you be pleading guilty?

Before entering a plea of guilty in any court, a person should think carefully about whether they should, in fact, be pleading guilty. There are several questions to consider here.

Firstly, are you actually guilty? This may seem like a simple question, but there may be more to it than you realise. Many criminal offences have both a physical element and a mental element (for example, intention, recklessness or foresight). In order to be found guilty, you must fulfil both the physical element (actus reus) and the mental element (mens rea).

Secondly, is the prosecution summary of the facts accurate? Before pleading guilty to anything, you should make sure you agree with this summary as you will be sentenced based on it. If there are statements in the police precis that you disagree with, you should try to negotiate with the prosecution for the statement to be amended prior to pleading guilty.

Thirdly, do you have a legal defence? Even if you committed the offence, you may not be guilty because of the circumstances in which it occurred. For example, were you acting in self-defence or because of an emergency? It is always a good idea to get comprehensive legal advice as to whether there are any legal defences applicable in your case before entering a plea.

Pleading guilty in the Local Court

If you are pleading guilty in the Local Court, you will either be summonsed to attend court on a particular date or arrested and granted bail or remanded until your court date. On the day that you appear at court, you will have a choice as to whether to finalise the matter on the day or seek an adjournment to get legal advice and prepare your case.

If you decide to plead guilty, you can do this on your own or with a lawyer representing you.

When you plead guilty in the Local Court, the charge will be read out to you in court and you will be asked how you plead. The prosecution will read the summary of facts to the court and if you have a criminal record, it will be handed up to the magistrate. The prosecutor will make submissions about the appropriate penalty, outlining any aggravating factors in your offending.

The defence will then make submissions, highlighting any mitigating factors in your offending. You (or your lawyer) will have the opportunity to tell the court the circumstances surrounding the offence, the circumstances of your life and any significant steps you have taken to address any issues that contributed to your offending. You will be able to hand up supporting documentation, such as character references and reports.

The magistrate will then decide on the appropriate sentence. This may be a fine, a good behaviour bond, a community work order or a term of imprisonment.  

Pleading guilty in the Children’s Court

If a person is charged with a criminal offence that is alleged to have occurred while they were under 18, they will be dealt with by the Youth Justice Court, which sits at the Children’s Court at the TCG Centre in Mitchell Street, Darwin and at the Local Courts in remote and regional centres.

When a young person attends court in relation to a criminal matter, they must be accompanied by a responsible adult. This is usually a parent or guardian who is responsible for their day-to-day care. A young person’s court matter will not be dealt with if a responsible adult is not in attendance.

A young person must be represented by a lawyer in the Youth Justice Court, but legal representation can be obtained for free for those who are under the age of 18. Alternately, a young person can obtain private representation.

When a young person pleads guilty to offences, they will be sentenced under the Youth Justice Act 2005. Under that act, a magistrate can impose a range of penalties, including good behaviour bonds, community work orders, fines and terms of detention.

Serious indictable matters

Serious indictable matters, such as murder and manslaughter, cannot be finalised in the summary jurisdiction. They must be dealt with on indictment, which requires a matter to be committed to the Supreme Court and finalised by way of plea hearing or jury trial.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.


Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.
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