Committal Hearings in Queensland
When a person is charged with a criminal offence in Queensland, the process the matter must go through depends on whether the offence is dealt with as a summary offences or as an indictable offence. Summary matters are finalised in the Magistrates Court, while matters heard on indictment must be transferred to a higher court to be finalised. Before this can happen, the matter must go through the committal hearing process. This page outlines the process for committal hearings in Queensland.
What is an indictable offence?
An indictable offence is a serious criminal offence that can be heard in the Supreme Court or District Court of Queensland.
Some indictable offences are very serious and can only be heard in the higher courts. Examples of these offences are murder, manslaughter and rape.
Other indictable offences can be heard in the lower courts if both parties agree, but may also be committed to a higher court to be dealt with on indictment. These offences include assault and stealing.
Brief of evidence
Before a charge can be committed to a higher court, a brief of evidence must be prepared by the prosecution and served on the defence. The brief of evidence contains all the evidence that the prosecution intends to rely on against the accused. This may include witness statements, photos, electronic records of interview, CCTV footage and so on.
A committal can proceed in two ways – by way of an oral committal hearing or by way of a hand-up committal. An oral committal is typically held where the accused is pleading not guilty. A hand-up committal usually occurs where the accused is pleading guilty.
In an oral committal, prosecution witnesses will attend and have the evidence set out in their statements tested under cross-examination by the defence. A magistrate then determines whether there is a strong enough case against the accused for the matter to proceed to a higher court. If there is enough evidence that a jury could find the accused guilty, the court will commit the matter to a higher court. If the magistrate considers the evidence is insufficient to support a finding of guilt in a higher court, they will dismiss the matter.
If the magistrate is satisfied that the case is strong enough to commit the matter, the defence may then present its case. However, it is risky for an accused to give evidence during a committal hearing as the prosecution may use what they say against them at the trial. In most cases, it is not advisable for the defence to call evidence at a committal.
The purpose of a committal hearing is not to determine whether the accused is guilty. It is simply to assess the strength of the case. The committal hearing is an important stage in the progress of a serious indictable matter and the accused and their legal representative should give careful consideration to whether an oral committal hearing should be held.
Advantages and disadvantages of oral committal hearings
There are advantages and disadvantages to holding an oral committal hearing. The greatest advantage is the possibility that the charges will be dismissed without the need for a trial. An oral committal hearing is also an opportunity to test the prosecution case.
The disadvantages of holding an oral committal hearing are that doing so can give the prosecution advance notice of the defence that the accused is planning to run at the trial. An oral committal also gives prosecution witnesses the opportunity to practice for a jury trial, meaning they may be better prepared and perform better. Lastly, an oral committal is expensive to run and if the matter proceeds to trial, the accused will still have to pay the costs of running the trial.
Committals without oral hearings
In most cases in Queensland, an indictable charge will be committed to the District Court or Supreme Court without an oral committal hearing. A defence lawyer will review the brief of evidence, and if there is enough evidence for the matter to proceed then it will be committed by consent between the parties. This can happen in two ways.
Firstly, a matter can go through a ‘full hand up’ committal. When this occurs, the prosecution hands up the brief of evidence, the magistrate reviews it to make sure there is sufficient evidence for the matter to be committed, and then commits the matter.
Alternately, a matter can go through a Registry Committal. For this to occur, the defence must have been provided with all the evidence and witness statements beforehand. The magistrate will adjourn the matter to allow a Registry Committal to occur, and the next Magistrates Court date will be vacated. The matter will then be transferred to a higher court.
If you require legal advice or representation in a criminal matter or in any other legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.