Following on from my last post about the value that an experienced lawyer can provide you if you’re facing a charge, I’d like to take a moment to lay out some ‘best practice’ rules for you to follow in the event that you have decided, for whatever reason, to represent yourself in the Magistrates Court.
KNOW THE PROCESS
Rule: Arrive at court early and get your QP9 from the Police Prosecutor
Court starts at 9am sharp (well, normally). If you have been given a Notice to Appear by the Police, it will almost certainly say that you need to be at court at 8:30am and I suggest arriving at about that time to clear security and get in line to see the Prosecutor.
Once you arrive (and get through security) you should find the courtroom which your matter will be heard in. For smaller, single courtroom, courts this is no problem but in larger venues – for example the Brisbane Magistrates Court or the Southport Magistrates Court – you will probably need to consult ‘the board’ (the big electronic board containing a list of the names of people facing court on a given day).
Once you find the correct courtroom, you should approach the Prosecutor and identify yourself by name (or number if you’re in the Roma Street Magistrates Court – get this from the printed list on the wall to the right of security). The Prosecutor might ask if you want to plead guilty, not guilty or seek an adjournment. If you have already made up your mind you can tell them, but my suggestion would be that you ask for a copy of your ‘QP9’ and say that you want an adjournment to consider your options. Most Prosecutors will not put any pressure on you but, if you feel like they are trying to force you into a plea one way or the other, you should probably hire a lawyer.
KNOW YOUR OPTIONS
Rule: Make sure you understand the charge/s and how you want to plead
Once you have been charged you have two options: you can plead guilty or you can plead not guilty. You are entitled to adjourn your matter once, or maybe more if you have a good reason, to consider your options. You should review the QP9, which you will obtain from the Prosecutor, before you decide on how to plead.
If you are to plead guilty, the earlier you do so the larger the reduction in penalty you will receive. Our law says that a ‘timely plea of guilty’ attracts a discount of up to 25% on the sentence for the person who enters it (for many legal and policy reasons that are beyond the scope of this post).
With that said, a court will not consider that a single adjournment for a person to consider their options is any prejudice to an ‘early plea’ discount. Unless your charge is a very simple one and you are fully prepared for the consequences of pleading guilty, best practice is to seek advice before you enter a plea. Most lawyers, myself included, will offer a free initial consultation to go through your QP9 with you and set out the full implications of your charge.
KNOW THE COURT
Rule: Listen for your name and address the Magistrate as ‘Your Honour’.
Providing you have arrived at court early enough and obtained your QP9 before things get too hectic, you will need to take a seat in the gallery (the seats at the back of the courtroom) until it’s your turn. Depending on the court, your case will be one of hundreds to be heard that day so you might need to be patient. Note that people who have lawyers will almost always be dealt with before self-represented defendants.
You will know that it’s your turn because you will hear your name called out by the Prosecutor. Once this happens you should walk up to the bar table (being the table which faces the Magistrate – the prosecutor will be on the right-hand end, you will stand at the left-hand end). Stay standing once you have arrived at the table and, anytime the Magistrate addresses you make sure you call them ‘Your Honour’ when you respond.
The Magistrate will ask you what you wish to do with your matter and this is your invitation to say that you would like an adjournment (perhaps for legal advice or to prepare for sentence if you’ve already decided that you want to plead guilty). You can say “I would like an adjournment so I can take my QP9 to a lawyer please Your Honour” or some variation of that phrase.
If you are not guilty of the charge you can say so at this stage and your case will be adjourned for some further administrative steps (that are beyond the scope of this post).
If you say that you want to plead guilty, 8 times out of ten a Magistrate will sentence you on the spot. What happens when you are sentenced will be the topic of a separate post.
Going to court can be an overwhelming experience but I hope these guidelines can help if you absolutely have to represent yourself. I would be more than happy to discuss any questions you might have or to try and explain the Queensland court processes better if you want to get in touch with me.
You can use the form below to contact me, or you can just give me a call directly on 0411 586 543.