So, you’re appearing in court. There’s no doubt, it can be nerve-wracking and a bit stressful. Here we explain what to expect and how to prepare yourself for a Local Court hearing or at your first mention.
No matter what offence you have been charged with, the first step – and the most critical – is to seek legal advice. A professional lawyer will help you to understand the charges against you, your rights, and your options in court.
Of course, you can represent yourself, everyone has the right to do that, but it does help to have a lawyer on your side who can help you to navigate the system.
If English is not your first language, or you are a person with a disability or cognitive impairment, there are specialist services available to you.
While Courts have done a lot to make themselves more ‘accessible’ and less formal, the law itself and some of the court processes remain steeped in tradition. For example, the language used in the legal system can be complex if you are not familiar with it.
Preparing for your local court hearing
To prepare for the day itself, it’s important that you know the time, the date and the location of the court you are attending. This will be stated on your Court Attendance Notice (CAN).
During the Covid-19 pandemic, many Court processes, including some hearings, transitioned to technology which means that you may be able to have your case heard via video-link or teleconference where the facilities are available, and the Magistrate grants you ‘leave’ to appear via AVL/phone (‘leave’ is just another word for permission). Be aware, for sentencing, you will almost always need to attend in person.
What if I can’t attend court?
If you cannot attend court on the day specified, at the time specified, you can apply to have this date changed and you must explain why. If you live a long way from the court that you are required to attend, then you can also ask to have the location of the mention/sentence changed – but pleas will be required on one of the early court dates, in the originating court. A matter will generally not be moved to another court if you plead not guilty. However if you plead guilty and want to have the forum for sentencing changed to a court closer to you, this can often be arranged.
It’s important to know that if you miss your court appearance then the Court has the power to make decisions in your absence, and you will forfeit the opportunity to explain your version of the events, which means the Court won’t be able to take into consideration any personal circumstances or other issues surrounding the incident you were allegedly involved with.
If however, the court does make a decision because you are absent, such as finding you guilty, you do have options to appeal the decision.
Word of caution: missing court dates can result in further charges, and even a warrant for your arrest. Whatever you do – if you have a court date, don’t simply ignore it.
What do I need to take to court?
If you have engaged a lawyer, then he/she will help you to prepare for court. If you’re self-representing, it’s a good idea to take notes with you so that you remember everything you want to say when it is your turn to speak.
You should take any documents relevant to your matter, including the CAN and the Police Fact sheet.
If you have other documents which may support your case, such as a medical certificate, or a letter from a psychologist, or proof that you have undertaken a safe driving program or drug/alcohol rehabilitation since the alleged offending occurred, or character references, then you need to take at least three copies of these documents. The original will be kept by the court, the police prosecutor will be given a copy, and you keep a copy.
If you’ve never been to court before, you could ask permission from the court to attend a court day on your own, to familiarise yourself with how the court operates. It’s important to note though, that some Local Courts in New South Wales still have Covid protocols in place, and visitors to court may be limited in some circumstances.
This post is informative only. It is not legal advice.
If you have a specific legal matter you’d like to discuss, please contact us.