In Victoria, there are four different courts where cases can be heard. The court you will go to depends on the type of crime that was committed, and the age of the person accused of committing the crime.
This page explains:
- the different types of courts in Victoria
- how the type of crime affects the court process
- the different types of hearings at each court.
Most cases start in the Magistrates' Court. If you are not sure which court you will be attending, ask the police informant.
This court handles mainly less serious crimes, but most cases for serious crimes start in the Magistrates' Court and finish in the County or Supreme courts.
Types of Hearings for most crimes
In the court system, offences like:
- road traffic offences (e.g. careless driving, drink driving, unlicenced driving)
- some assaults
- property damage
- offensive behaviour
are called Summary offences.
These cases can be heard by a magistrate sitting alone. They don't need a judge and jury.
All summary cases begin as a mention hearing. This is the first date of the court process. The charge is read to the accused person who pleads guilty or not guilty. If they plead guilty, the case can be dealt with immediately and the accused person may be sentenced that day. Sometimes the matter is postponed (called an adjournment) for sentencing on a later date.
Find out more about how a sentence is decided.
If the accused pleads not guilty, the matter proceeds to a contest mention, and will usually be postponed to a later date. A contest mention is a preliminary hearing conducted before a matter is listed for a contested hearing. The parties may come to an agreement at this hearing and the matter can then be finalised straight away. Otherwise, the aim is to determine the issues in dispute, the required witnesses and the length of the proposed contested hearing. The case will then proceed to a contested hearing at a later date.
At a contested hearing both parties present their case to the court and a magistrate will find the defendant guilty or not guilty.
Types of Hearings for more serious crimes
More serious offences like:
- aggravated burglary
- indecent assault
- drug trafficking offences
- sexual assault
are called Indictable offences. These cases can't be heard without the person accused of the crime being at court.
A committal mention is used to decide:
- the date of the committal hearing
- which witnesses are required to attend the committal hearing.
Normally, victims don't have to give evidence at a committal mention.
The purpose of a committal hearing is to find out if there is enough evidence to put the accused person on trial with a judge and jury. You might have to give evidence at this hearing.
If there is enough evidence, the case will move on to the County Court or Supreme Court. The case will be dismissed if a magistrate finds there is not enough evidence for a trial.
Watch the video to see how the Magistrates' court works.
County Court and Supreme Court
These are called 'higher courts'. If the case goes up to the County Court or Supreme Court, there'll be a trial with a judge and jury. If you gave evidence in the committal hearing (in the Magistrates' Court), you might have to give evidence at the trial in the County or Supreme Court.
Keep in mind:
- it can be several months or more between hearings. Stay in touch with the police informant for your case or the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP)
- The Victims of Crime Helpline can give you information, advice and support during the legal process
- if you are a witness at the trial, contact the Witness Assistance Service (External link).
It will be several months or more between the committal hearing and the start of the trial. The police informant or the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) should keep you informed about the case and let you know when the trial is scheduled to start.
In sexual offence matters, the date of the trial is provided at the end of the committal hearing.
The trial is held in front of a judge and jury in the County Court or the Supreme Court. The jury, after hearing evidence from all witnesses, including the victim where relevant, decide if the accused is guilty or not guilty.
If the accused is found guilty, the judge decides the appropriate penalty or sentence at the Sentencing Hearing. This usually takes place on a different day. To assist the sentencing process, victims can submit a Victim impact Statement before an offender is sentenced.
If the accused pleads guilty or is found guilty, there will be a plea hearing. At this hearing, the guilty person's lawyer can ask the judge to take certain things into account when deciding the sentence.
The judge will ask the prosecution whether the defendant has been found guilty of any offences in the past, as this may impact on the penalty the judge will impose at the sentencing hearing.
A victim may submit a Victim Impact Statement. A Victim Impact Statement is a document written by the victim that describes the impact of the offence on them. The judge will take this information into account when sentencing the guilty person.
The sentencing may happen on the same day as the plea hearing, but can occur at a later date. At this hearing the judge tells the guilty person what their punishment will be.
Find out more about how a sentence is decided.
The accused person may lodge an appeal to the Court of Appeal against being found guilty or against the penalty. The OPP can also appeal against the penalty if they think that the penalty was not adequate for the crime or not legally correct.
Special hearings are designed for victims of sexual assault who are children or who have a cognitive impairment, to make giving evidence less traumatic. In a special hearing the victim gives evidence from a remote room via closed-circuit television. The evidence is recorded and then played at the trial.
County Court video tour
Watch the video to see how the County Court works.