Pleading Guilty in the Higher Courts (WA)

In Western Australia, all criminal cases involving adults begin in the Magistrates Court, but serious indictable offences are finalised in either the District Court or Supreme Court. If an individual intends to plead guilty to a serious indictable offence, there are several procedural stages they must go through before being sentence. This article will explain the process of pleading guilty in the higher courts of Western Australia.

How are matters in the higher courts commenced?

Indictable offences are initiated in the Magistrates Court through a Prosecution Notice, Summons or Arrest. In all instances, an accused individual must be provided with a Statement of Material Facts detailing the allegations. It is critical to review this document carefully before deciding whether to plead guilty or not guilty. It is also crucial to seek legal advice as the higher courts have the power to impose significant terms of imprisonment.

What to consider before pleading guilty

If a person is accused of serious indictable offences, it is advisable to seek legal advice and assess the strength of the prosecution’s case before entering a guilty plea. It is also advisable to consider whether any of the prosecution evidence if challengeable and whether there are any potential legal defences, as well as the likely penalty range if you are found guilty.  

Fast-track plea of guilty

In cases where the accused has been charged with a matter that can be resolved in the District Court, and they have reviewed the Statement of Material Facts and obtained legal counsel, they may opt to plead guilty through a fast-track process.

Once the plea is entered in the Magistrates Court, the case will be committed to the District Court for Sentence Mention, and reports such as presentence report, psychological reports, or psychiatric reports, may be requested on that day.

By pleading guilty at an early opportunity, a significant reduction in the sentence is likely. Under section 9AA of the Sentencing Act 1995 courts can reduce the head sentence by up to 25% in consideration of the benefits to the state, victim, or witness resulting from the guilty plea. The earlier the plea is entered, the greater the reduction in sentence is likely to be.

Pleading guilty after district court committal

If a person decides to plead guilty in a District Court matter after reviewing the brief of evidence, the case will be committed to the District Court for Sentence Mention. On the day of the guilty plea, court-ordered reports, such as presentence, psychological, or psychiatric reports, can be requested. Before the Sentence Mention, the DPP will submit an Indictment and a sentencing brief to the court. If all reports have been received, a sentencing date before a District Court judge will be given at the Sentence Mention.

Pleading guilty after Supreme Court committal

If a person is charged with an indictable offence that requires handling by the Supreme Court, the process is different. On the initial court date at the Magistrates Court, the case will be adjourned to the Stirling Gardens Magistrates Court, where the DPP acts as the prosecutor. If the accused wants to obtain the brief of evidence, the case will be adjourned for a Disclosure/Committal Hearing in about three months time. After receiving the disclosure, if the accused chooses to plead guilty, the matter will be committed to the Supreme Court for sentencing.

At the time of entering the guilty plea, court-ordered reports such as presentence, psychological, or psychiatric reports can be requested. Prior to the sentencing hearing, the DPP will submit an Indictment and a sentencing brief to the court.

Preparing for sentencing

If you plan to submit any written documents for the court’s consideration, they should generally be filed at least two days before your scheduled sentencing date. Some examples of written materials that you may wish to file include character references, written submissions, and medical reports.

Character references

Providing a well-crafted character reference can significantly benefit your case in court. These references can help the court to understand your personal situation and the circumstances that led to the offence.

Steps taken to address offending

In cases where your criminal conduct was linked to substance abuse, it’s essential to demonstrate to the court that you’re taking steps to address these issues. Seeking professional help from doctors, counsellors or psychologists, and attending relevant programs will be crucial factors. The court will want confirmation of the programs you have attended and the treatment you have received.

If your actions resulted in financial loss for someone else, such as property damage or theft, it’s important to attempt to repay the victim and provide evidence to the court of this repayment. This will be taken into consideration as a mitigating factor.

Sentencing hearing

During your sentence hearing, the prosecution will present the Statement of Material Facts and inform the court if you have a criminal record. You or your legal representative will have the chance to present your case to the judge. You can provide information about your background, personal situation, and the circumstances surrounding the offence. If there were specific pressures on you at the time of the offence, like financial struggles or mental health issues, the court may consider them as mitigating factors. It is crucial to have documentation to support any submissions regarding mitigating factors.

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


Michelle Makela

Michelle Makela is a Legal Practice Director at Go To Court Lawyers. She holds a Juris Doctor, a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) and a Master of Criminology. She was admitted to practice in 2006. Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning. 
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