If you go to court in NSW, you will either be tried in a local court by a magistrate, or in the district or supreme court by a judge and jury.
In some cases, you may be tried in the higher courts by a judge alone.
Being tried by a magistrate and being tried by a jury are very different trial experiences, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Am I likely to be tried by a jury or a magistrate?
Whether you appear in the magistrates court for your offence largely depends on what you have been charged with.
More serious offences are generally tried in the district or supreme court, while minor matters are dealt with in the local court.
In many cases, the charges even for serious offences are laid in the local court to begin with, and then progress to a defended trial by jury at a later stage if the defendant pleads not guilty.
What are the advantages to a jury trial?
Many people believe that they will get a fairer trial if they appear in front of a jury.
When you are tried by a jury, the idea is that you are being tried by your peers rather than a single magistrate or judge, who may or may not be able to relate to your personal circumstances.
With a jury trial, the decision is made by a number of people rather than one individual and this can be reassuring for someone who has been accused of an offence, particularly a serious one with serious potential penalties.
In most states in Australia, the verdict in a jury trial needs to be unanimous, that is, all the jurors need to agree whether the defendant is innocent or guilty.
In NSW, under certain circumstances and for certain offences, it is acceptable to have a majority verdict, which is where all the jurors bar one agree.
What are the disadvantages of a jury trial?
A jury trial may not always ensure the best outcome for every case.
There are a number of disadvantages to having a trial by jury. As the people on a jury do not generally have a legal background, it is possible that they may not entirely understand complex legal documents or argument, or in-depth forensic evidence.
Every juror will also have their own personal biases, and this can affect their decision-making.
Minority groups can be disadvantaged at a jury trial, as the majority of jurors are likely to be caucasian.
There is a good chance that, if there are minority members of the jury and the person being tried is also in a minority group, the prosecution will challenge those members and have them removed.
During jury selection, each side is allowed to remove three potential members of the jury.
How do I know what is best for me?
In situations where you have the choice of having your matter heard at either a local court or a district court, you will need to obtain legal advice before making a decision.
The best option for you will depend on your personal circumstances, the complexity of the case, and the nature of the charges against you.
The right type of trial can help you make sure you get the best possible outcome for your case.