There are various stages in any criminal proceeding, and one of those is a committal hearing. If you’re accused of a criminal offence and your case proceeds to a committal hearing, it’s important to understand the purpose of it and how it may affect your case.
When a person is charged with a serious criminal offence that is dealt with by the Supreme or County Court, the accused must first be ‘committed’ to a higher court by a magistrate. This is a process known as a committal hearing.
A committal hearing takes place at the Magistrates’ Court. The purposes of a committal proceeding are—
(a) to determine whether a charge for an offence is appropriate to be heard and determined summarily;
(b) to determine whether there is evidence of sufficient weight to support a conviction for the offence charged;
(c) to determine how the accused proposes to plead to the charge;
(d) to ensure a fair trial, if the matter proceeds to trial, by—
Committal hearings are aimed at preventing serious criminal prosecutions proceeding if there is insufficient evidence. Committals also enable an accused person to understand the case against them and test the evidence of witnesses.
During a committal hearing witnesses may be cross-examined and submissions can be made by defence and the prosecution. Sometimes, the evidence and submissions at a committal hearing will enable the prosecution and defence to agree on lesser charges or to have the matter determined in the Magistrates’ Court.
There is no jury present at a committal hearing and any decisions made about the case are made solely by the Magistrate.
Some advantages of a committal hearing include criminal charges may be dismissed, new evidence may be uncovered and weakness in a case may be discovered. Inconsistent testimony given by prosecution witnesses will greatly impact the case if the matter proceeds to a jury trial.
At the conclusion of a committal hearing, having regard to all of the evidence, a Magistrate must decide if there is evidence of sufficient weight to support a conviction for the offence charged.
If a Magistrate decides that there is insufficient evidence to support a conviction, the Magistrate must discharge the accused. If the Magistrate decides there is sufficient evidence to support a conviction, the accused person is committed to stand trial. This means that proceedings are transferred to the County Court or Supreme Court for determination.
If there is no benefit from a committal hearing, the accused may choose to plead guilty at this stage, or not plead guilty and forgo a committal hearing and the case will then go directly to County Court or Supreme Court.
Committal hearings are the usual procedure in which criminal cases are transferred from the Magistrates’ Court to higher court (Supreme Court or County Court), though it’s important to understand that not all criminal matters proceed to a committal hearing. Any matter involving allegations of sexual offences in relation to a child or a cognitively-impaired person will proceed straight to County Court.
A committal hearing is an important part of any defence case. Decisions made during committal hearings can have a big impact on the outcome of your case, therefore, it’s important to understand the committal process and how it may affect your case.
Different states and territories have different rules regarding committal hearings, so it’s crucial to hire criminal lawyers in Melbourne who understand the process in Victorian courts to help you achieve the best possible outcome for your case.
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Doyle's Guide First Tier Criminal Law firm (2020, 2021 and 2022).