Which Court is the Best Choice: Local Court, or Higher Court?

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Outside the Downing Centre Court

Our video and blog post below discusses the question: Which Court is the Best Choice: Local Court, or Higher Court?

The NSW court system is comprised of three separate courts, the local court, the district court, and the supreme court.

When a matter is heard in the local court, it is generally dealt with by a magistrate.

If you plead ‘not guilty’ and our case is dealt with in a higher court, you will usually have your case heard by a jury, or in some cases a judge.

If you are facing charges, in many cases, you will have no choice over which court deals with the matter. It will go to a higher court such as the district or supreme court.

But there are a number of offences where you can elect to have your case heard in either the local court, or the higher courts.

It is important to seek legal advice before making this decision, as it can have far-reaching implications for the outcome of your case.

Here is some information to help you make your decision.

Which offences allow me to choose where my case is heard?

There is a group of offences under the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 that are known as table offences.

If you are accused of one of these offences, you or the prosecution can elect to have the matter heard in a higher court.

Table offences include:

  • Driving offences, such as dangerous driving
  • Assault
  • Theft (larceny)
  • Property offences, such as breaking and entering
  • Drug offences under the indictable quantity
  • Malicious damage

Summary offences will be automatically dealt with in the local court.

However more serious offences may be dealt with at a higher court, depending on whether the prosecutor or defendant chooses to take them higher than the local court.

What are the benefits of staying in the local court?

There are a number of benefits to having your case heard by your local court, including:

  • The charges are lower than in the district or supreme courts. If your matter is tried in the local court, it will be as a summary offence with a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment for a single offence, and five years for multiple offences.
  • If you are not happy with your sentence, you can appeal and the process is quicker than appealing from the district court to the supreme court, so your matter will be heard with less waiting time.
  • If you choose to appeal to the district or supreme court, you can’t get a harsher penalty than the one you have been given. The judge is required to warn you if they are considering a more severe penalty, and you can then withdraw the appeal.
  • Costs are usually less for a local court trial than one by jury, which can go on for much longer.

What are the benefits of going to a higher court?

There are a few benefits to electing to have your matter heard by a higher court, including:

  • You will be tried by a jury of your peers, rather than a single magistrate or judge.
  • You will have more time and opportunity to negotiate the charges against you, particularly as the prosecution may be reluctant to spend the money required for a trial at a higher court.
  • More time to have your case heard. Local courts are often busy, and there may not be enough time to hear all the details of complex cases.

Whatever you decide, it is important to obtain legal advice before you go ahead with a trial by jury at a district or supreme Court.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and you will need to take your individual circumstances into consideration to decide the best option for you.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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