Going to court, especially for the first time, can be confusing and you may be nervous. The best way to make sure you are prepared for court is to be organised.
Step 1: Get legal advice
You can either represent yourself at court, or you can get a solicitor. You should arrange to get some legal advice as soon as possible, as it may take some time before you can see or speak to a lawyer.
You may be able to get legal advice from:
Legal Aid is generally not available to represent people at court for minor offences or traffic matters, but you may be able to get some free legal advice at
Legal Aid NSW.
Aboriginal Legal Service
If you are Aboriginal or a Torres Strait Islander you may be able to get legal advice from the
Aboriginal Legal Service.
You can call LawAccess NSW on
1300 888 529 to get free legal information and referrals to the most appropriate service for you.
Step 2: Confirm your court date, time and location
You should make sure you write down your court date and time. You should also check the address of the court. This should be on your Court Attendance Notice (CAN). If you can't find it you can contact the court or go to the
Local Court website.
If you miss the date, or if you are late, the court may make a decision without you (in your absence). If the court makes a decision in your absence, you won't be able to explain what happened to the court or there may be a warrant issued for your arrest. If you miss your court date you may be able to apply for an annulment.
For more information, see
Appeals and annulments.
Step 3: Ask for an adjournment (if you need one)
If you can't attend court, you should contact the court and explain why. It is a good idea to send something in writing, for example, a letter, email or fax. If you are sick you should also send a medical certificate that states that you are not fit to attend court. You should do this as soon as possible. Do not leave it until the day you are due in court! The court may adjourn (postpone) your case for a period of time, usually one or two weeks.
If you are sending a medical certificate to the court, you should make sure the doctor writes why you are unable to attend. The magistrate may not accept a certificate if it only says you are unwell or unfit for work.
You may also be able to plead guilty in writing. If you do this you may not have to attend court. If you want to plead guilty in writing, you must do so at least seven days before your court date.
For more information, see
Pleading guilty in writing.
In some cases you may be able to enter a program designed for people who have committed the offence you were charged with. These are programs that aim to help you not commit the same offence again. For example, if you have committed a number of traffic offences, you may want to enrol in the Traffic Offender Intervention Program (TOIP). Programs like the TOIP can help a magistrate decide what sentence to give you. If you want to enrol in a program but it does not finish until a date after the mention, you can ask for an adjournment. You should ask for an adjournment to a date after the program finishes. If you want to find or enrol in any programs related to your offence, you should get
Step 4: Prepare your submissions
It's a good idea to write down the main points you want to tell the magistrate. These are called 'submissions'. They can be helpful if you forget what to say when you get to court.
If you are nervous about speaking in court, you could:
- practice speaking to the magistrate with one of your friends or relatives
- go to a local court and watch some cases. If you telephone the court, you can find out the dates and times that sentencing hearings are held. Courts are open to the public and you can sit in the public area at the back of any court and watch
- put your submissions in writing by preparing a letter to the magistrate.
Step 5: Prepare your documents
When pleading guilty, it is a good idea to get two or three character references. Character references are letters written by referees (people) who know you and can write about your good character. These referees should have a good reputation, should not have a criminal record and must know why you are going to court.
Instructions: Preparing a character reference.
Sample: Character reference.
You can also write an apology letter. This is a chance for you to tell the court you are sorry for the offence.
Instructions: Instructions for writing an apology letter.
Sample: Apology letter.
Step 6: Consider what other evidence you need
You should take any other evidence you have that supports the things you say in your submissions, for example:
If you want to tell the magistrate that you have a particular medical condition, you should take a medical certificate or letter from your doctor.
Traffic Offender Intervention Program certificate
If you have done a course like a Traffic Offender Intervention Program you should take a copy of the certificate showing that you finished that course. A copy of your certificate should be sent directly to the court, but it is a good idea to take your copy in case the court does not get one.
Evidence of income and assets
It is also a good idea to take evidence of your income and assets, particularly if you want to tell the magistrate that it would be difficult for you to pay a large fine.
You should take the original and three copies of any documents, for example character references, you intend to show the court. The original will be kept by the court. You will need to give one copy to the prosecutor, keep one for your records and have a spare.
Step 7: Plan what to take
You should take the following things with you to court:
- your fine (penalty notice) and/or CAN
- the police fact sheet or other documents you have received
- your submissions
- your character references
- your letter of apology
- any other relevant evidence
- a notebook and pen to make notes.
For more information about what might happen at court, you should watch the video below.
You can also read a transcript of this video (54 kb).
Step 8: What next?
For more information about what to do when you get to court, see Presenting your guilty plea at court - Step by step guide.