Pleading Not Guilty in the Magistrates Court (ACT)

When a person is charged with criminal offences in the ACT and pleads not guilty, the processes they must go through depend on whether the matter is to be dealt with summarily or on indictment. When a matter is dealt with summarily it is finalised in a lower court (Magistrates Court or Children’s Court). When a matter is dealt with on indictment, it is committed to the Supreme Court for finalisation and there are more procedural steps involved. This page deals with pleading not guilty in the Magistrates Court in the ACT.


Criminal procedures in the ACT are set out in the Criminal Procedure Act 1986.

Indicating a plea

When you are charged with an offence in the ACT, you will either be summoned to attend court or arrested and brought to court in custody. On the first occasion you attend court, you will have the opportunity to tell the court whether you want to plead guilty or not guilty. However, you do not have to make this decision the first time you come to court.

If you indicate that you are pleading not guilty, you will be required to go through a number of procedural stages to see if the matter can be resolved. If it cannot be resolved, it will proceed to a contested hearing where evidence and submissions from both parties will be heard.

Case management hearing

When you first indicate a plea of not guilty, the matter will be adjourned for a case management hearing. The police will then prepare a brief of evidence and serve it on the defence. This is a copy of all the evidence that they intend to rely on against you. It may include witness statements, photographs, CCTV footage and records of interview. You should go through the brief of evidence carefully with your lawyer.

At the case management hearing, the prosecution and defence will discuss the case to see if it can be resolved. Some matters can be resolved because the accused is willing to plead guilty to one charge, if another charge is withdrawn, or if the police summary of facts is altered. If this occurs, the accused may proceed to plead guilty and be sentenced at the case management hearing. Alternately, the matter may be adjourned for a plea on another date.

If the matter cannot be resolved, it will be listed for a contested hearing at a later date.

Contested hearings

At a contested hearing, you will formally enter your plea of not guilty. The prosecution will call witnesses, who will give their evidence-in-chief. Your lawyer will have the opportunity to cross-examine each prosecution witness. You will then have the opportunity to call witnesses in your defence. Each defence witness will give their evidence-in-chief and the prosecutor will have the opportunity to cross-examine them. You may give evidence if you choose to do so.

The magistrate will then decide whether you have been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are found guilty, a sentence will be imposed. This may be a fine, good behaviour bond, intensive correction order or term of imprisonment. When sentencing you, the court will take into account the circumstances of the offence and your personal circumstances, including your criminal record or prior good character.

Seek legal advice when pleading not guilty

If you are pleading not guilty to criminal offences, you should always have legal representation. Contested criminal matters are complex and generally involve:

  • Assessing the viability of a legal defence
  • Challenging the admissibility of evidence
  • Cross-examining witnesses
  • Summoning defence witnesses
  • Making legal submissions


A decision by an ACT magistrate can be appealed in the Supreme Court. A person can appeal against a verdict or against a sentence. An appeal must be initiated within 28 days of the decision being appealed.

An appeal is commenced by filing a Notice of Appeal form setting out the details of the decision you are appealing, your grounds of appeal, and the orders you are seeking. The sealed form must then be served on the prosecution and on the registrar of the Magistrates Court.

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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