Presenting your guilty plea at court - Step by step guide
Presenting your case at court - Step by step guide
Step 1: Before the mention
When you go to court for the mention, you will need to find the courtroom where your case will be heard. The court will usually put up a list of all the cases being heard that day. You should look for your name on the list, as it will tell you the courtroom you need to go to.
At some local courts, you might have to appear before a registrar who will ask you how you intend to plead. This is called a 'call over'. If you tell the registrar you want to plead guilty, your case may be moved to another court for 'Sentence' by a magistrate. Not all local courts have a 'call over'. At some local courts you may appear before a magistrate straight away. The magistrate will ask you how you intend to plead. If you tell the magistrate you want to plead guilty, the magistrate will usually sentence you (decide what penalty to give you, if any) on the spot.
Even though your case may be listed at a certain time, it is a good idea to get to the court half an hour earlier to find out what courtroom your case will be heard in. If you think you are going to be late, you should ring the court registry and let them know. If you are not there the court can decide your case without you.
There are often many cases listed on the same day and you have to wait until your name is called. You can take a seat in the courtroom or if the courtroom is full you can wait outside. Make sure you stay close enough to the courtroom to hear the court officer call your name. If you leave, or are not there when you are called, your case can be decided without you.
The magistrate or registrar may close the courtroom for morning tea (usually around 11:30am) and for lunch (usually from 1:00pm to 2:00pm). You will have to leave the courtroom during these breaks. You can check with the court officer or the registry what time the courtroom will reopen.
It is possible that you could be at the court for a few hours, and sometimes for most of the day, so you should make arrangements with your work or childcare if necessary.
Remember to turn off your mobile phone before going into the courtroom. You should also remove hats and sunglasses and be quiet in the courtroom while the magistrate is dealing with other cases.
Step 2: What to do and say in the courtroom
When you go into the courtroom, you should sit down in the public area and wait for your name to be called. Once your name is called, you will usually be asked to stand next to the bar table, where the lawyers and prosecutor sit. If you are unsure of where to sit or who else will be in the courtroom, see
Who's who in court.
Depending on the offence, the prosecutor may be a police, council or RSPCA officer or a lawyer representing the Roads and Maritime Service (RMS).
The magistrate will then ask you how you want to plead (that is, whether you want to plead guilty or not guilty). When you tell the magistrate that you are pleading guilty, the following will usually happen:
- the prosecutor will give the magistrate a document (fact sheet) setting out what happened, when the offence was committed, and your criminal and/or driving history (if you have a history)
- the magistrate will read the prosecutor's documents
- you will be asked if you want to make submissions (say anything) or if you have any documents (for example character references, an apology letter or a letter from a doctor) you want to give to the court
- the magistrate will listen to your submissions and read your documents, if you have any
- you will be asked if there is anything else you want to say
- the magistrate will make a decision.
You should ask the prosecutor to let you have a look at the fact sheet before they are given to the magistrate. If there is anything you disagree with in the facts, you should let the prosecutor know. If the prosecutor agrees, they may be able to amend the facts. Or there may be a hearing to decide what the correct facts are. You should also have a look at your criminal and/or driving history to confirm that it is correct and that you know about the offences listed on your history, if any.
When giving documents to the magistrate, such as character references, you will first need to show these to the prosecutor. If there is no objection, the court officer will take the documents from you and give them to the magistrate. You should not approach the bench (the table where the magistrate sits) unless you are given permission.
When making your submissions you should mention the things listed on your checklist, if you prepared one.
Watch the video below to learn what to do and say in the courtroom.
You can also read a transcript of this video (54 kb).
Checklist: Your submissions.
Sample submissions to the court - Pleading guilty.
Step 3: The decision
The magistrate will usually sentence you after they have read all the material and listened to your submissions. If you are enrolled in, or want to enrol in, an offenders program, the magistrate may adjourn sentencing until after you have completed that program.
When sentencing you, the magistrate will usually go through the details of the offence and your history. The magistrate will then tell you what sentence they are giving you. In most cases, the sentence will be a fine. The amount of the fine will depend on a number of factors, such as:
- the circumstances of the offence
- the maximum penalty for the particular offence
- your financial situation
- your driving or criminal history
- whether you have completed any relevant programs.
The maximum fine a court can impose is usually a lot higher than the original fine.
Magistrates have the power to find you guilty but not record a conviction. This is commonly known as a 'section 10 dismissal'. A section 10 dismissal can either be instant or come after a period of good behaviour (a good behaviour bond) of up to two years.
A section 10 dismissal means that you will not be fined or have to face any other punishment. A section 10 dismissal is hard to get, and will usually only be given where:
- you have a clear criminal and driving record
- the offence is minor
- there is little chance of you offending again
- there were mitigating factors that led to the offence.
Even if the above factors apply to your case, there is no guarantee you will get a section 10 dismissal. If you want to know whether you could get a section 10 dismissal for your case, you should get
If you get a section 10 for a traffic matter, you will not get any demerit points for the offence but you may have to pay court costs.
For some driving offences there are minimum periods of disqualification that the court must impose. If you are concerned about losing your licence, you should get
For more information about appeals, see
If you think that the sentence you are given is too harsh or inappropriate, do not argue with the magistrate. You may be able to appeal the decision to the District Court within 28 days of the decision. Before you file an appeal, you should get