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Court Process

​​Whether a crime is dealt with in the Magistrates Court or the Supreme Court depends on the charges laid and penalties that can be imposed for that charge. Matters may sometimes move between both levels of the Court depending on the decisions made on how to best manage the case. In nearly all cases the process will take some time to complete and be in Court several times. The victim or witnesses will not need to attend each mention as these are primarily discussions between the Court, Prosecutor and Legal Counsel to move the case forward. Only when witnesses are required to give evidence would they have to attend or, if they choose to, they can attend for sentencing where there is a finding of guilt.

A flowchart of the general process (PDF)​ is provided here.

Below are summaries of Court processes that are most relevant to victims or witnesses. It is recommended that you also visit the Information about being a Witness webpage.

Early Guilty Plea

Where an alleged offender indicates that he or she will plead guilty to the charge/s, this will go through to the appropriate Court fairly quickly for a plea and sentencing. The victim may complete a Victim Impact Statement that can be given to the Court as part of the submissions for the Magistrate or Judge to consider when deciding on an appropriate sentence. The offender will be given some sentencing discount by the Magistrate or Judge for an early plea as it means that the victim and witness will not have to give evidence on the matter.

Summary Hearings

Where an alleged offender is pleading not guilty and the matter is to be dealt with in the Magistrates Court it will be set down for a hearing. The victim and witnesses will be given a summons to attend Court on that day to give evidence in front of a Magistrate. After hearing the evidence and the arguments put forward by the prosecutor and the defence lawyer, the Magistrate will make a decision of "Guilty" or "Not Guilty". If found guilty, the Magistrate will sentence the offender for the crime. If the alleged offender is not found guilty then the charges will be dismissed and they are free to go.

Where a witness fails to attend Court after being summonsed, the case may be adjourned or withdrawn. The Magistrate may also issue a warrant for the witness to be arrested and brought to Court.

Committal Hearings

Where a case may go to the Supreme Court, witnesses may be called to give evidence at a committal hearing in the Magistrates Court. This is a hearing to examine the strength of the evidence for the case before it is sent to the Supreme Court. If witnesses are called for this kind of hearing, they will be asked to confirm the information in their statement is true and correct and respond to questions from the defence about their statement. Once the Magistrate has considered the evidence and what he/she has heard from any witnesses that are called, they will make a decision on whether to commit the case to trial in the Supreme Court or discharge the case due to insufficient evidence. Where the matter then goes to trial, the witnesses will have to come to Court again to give evidence at the trial.


Where a case goes to the Supreme Court and the alleged offender pleads not guilty, it will be sent to Trial. This will be heard in front of a Judge and Jury. Witnesses for the case will be given a subpoena to attend Court and give evidence. Once the evidence has been heard the jury have to decide whether to find the alleged offender guilty or not guilty on each charge. If they find the person guilty on any of the charges, the Judge will then proceed to sentencing. If they do not find them guilty, the charges are dismissed and the person is free to go.

If the jury cannot decide either way, this is called a Hung Jury. In these cases, the jury is dismissed and the prosecutor must consider whether to run the trial again with a new jury or withdraw the matter. If it is run again the witnesses will have to re-attend and give their evidence again.


After a guilty plea or a finding of guilt, the Court will proceed to sentencing. Submissions are made by both the prosecutor and the defence lawyer about matters they think the Magistrate or Judge should consider when deciding on a sentence. This also includes providing the Court with the Victim Impact Statement if the victim chooses to complete one. The Court will take into account the facts of the case and the offender's prior criminal history and personal circumstances. The Court may request additional information such as Psychological Reports or Pre-Sentence Reports. In sentencing, the Court may use several options unless there is a mandatory sentence set out in legislation. Those options include:

  • Imprisonment
  • A fully or partially suspended sentence
  • Home Detention
  • Good Behaviour Bond
  • Community Work Order
  • Fine

In some of these options conditions can be placed on the offender which can include residential conditions, counselling, alcohol abstinence, alcohol and drug testing and restrictions on them contacting the victim directly or indirectly.


After a hearing or a trial where the offender is found guilty and sentenced, the offender may lodge an appeal against the guilty finding or the sentence that was imposed. Notice of the appeal has to be lodged within 28 days. If there is an appeal, where the offender was sentenced to imprisonment they may be bailed until the appeal is heard or else they will remain in custody. Another Judge is asked to consider the documents of case and the grounds for the appeal, if they find there are reasons to allow the appeal, they may direct there be a re-trial or re-sentencing. If they find there are not sufficient reasons to allow the appeal then they will dismiss the appeal and the original sentence will be imposed. 


The court operates under strict rules and everyone behaves very formally. Everyone that appears in court should:

  • dress neatly;
  • turn off their mobile phone;
  • not eat food drink or chew gum;
  • sit quietly;
  • not make an audio or visual recording of proceedings (unless permitted by the magistrate or judge); and
  • not speak to any member of the jury if in the Supreme Court.

To acknowledge the judge or magistrate, everyone should:

  • stand whenever the court officer calls 'all rise' when the magistrate or judge enters or leaves the courtroom;
  • bow their head to acknowledge the magistrate or judge every time they enter or leave the courtroom and
  • address the magistrate or judge as 'Your Honour'.


When inside the courtroom a defendant should:

  • stand up whenever the judge or magistrate is speaking to them; and
  • speak clearly and read from notes if needed.


Before giving evidence, the magistrate will ask each witness to swear an oath on the Bible (or other holy book) or make an affirmation (promise) to tell the truth. It is important that the witness takes an oath according to their wishes.

The following oath and affirmation are given in the Supreme Court.


'The evidence which you shall give to the court and jury sworn between our sovereign lady the Queen and the prisoner/s at the bar shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God.'

The witness will respond: 'So help me God.'


Do you promise to tell the truth?

The witness will respond: 'I do.'

Inside the Magistrates Courtroom

People in the courtroom


The magistrate has the power to make decisions on simple offences and some indictable offences. For more serious indictable offences the magistrate determines if there is enough evidence to refer the case for trial to the Supreme Court. They are addressed as 'Your Honour' and do not wear robes.

Court officers

The court officers will call a defendant when the magistrate is ready, record proceedings and call each witness to give evidence.


The prosecutor presents the case against the defendant. For both simple and indictable offences the prosecutor is a lawyer from the Director of Public Prosecutions who will prosecute the case.

Defence lawyer

A lawyer who acts for and speaks on behalf of the defendant. This may be a duty lawyer from the NT Legal Aid Commission, Northern Australian Aboriginal Justices Agency, Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service or from private practice.


The defendant is the person accused of committing the offence. If the defendant is in custody they will sit in the dock next to a correctional services officer.


People who the prosecution or defence call to give evidence to support their case. Both the prosecutor and the defence lawyer will ask the witness questions.

The public

The public and media can sit in the public gallery to watch, unless the magistrate orders a closed court.

Inside the Supreme Court

People in the courtroom

The judge

The judge controls the courtroom and ensures the evidence presented is relevant. If the accused pleads guilty or the jury finds the accused guilty, the judge will determine the sentence. The judge is addressed as 'Your Honour' and usually wears a wig and a robe.

The judge's associate

The judge's associate wears a plain black robe and no wig and sits below the judge. They help the judge by reading out the charges, taking the accused's plea and asking the jury for its verdict.

Crown prosecutor

In the Supreme Court it is the Crown that brings a matter for prosecution. A Crown prosecutor is a lawyer who works for the Director of Public Prosecutions. They present the case against the accused. The Crown prosecutor will wear a robe and a wig.

Defence lawyers

The accused is usually represented by a barrister and a solicitor. The barrister speaks on behalf of the accused. The solicitor gives instructions to the barrister on behalf of the accused. The barrister will wear robes and a wig, but the solicitor usually does not.

The jury

The jury is present if the accused pleads not guilty and the matter proceeds to a trial. The jury is made up of 12 people selected at random from the community. They decide if the accused is guilty or not guilty. The jury remains in court unless the judge is discussing a point of law with the lawyers.

The Sheriff's Officer

The Sheriff's officer will sit or stand near the jury. They help everything run smoothly by calling all parties when the judge is ready, announcing the beginning and end of sessions, looking after the jury and calling witnesses to give evidence.


In the Supreme Court the defendant is referred to as the accused and is the person who is accused of committing the offence. They sit in the dock near a corrective services officer who is present at all times.


People who the Crown or defence call to give evidence. Both the prosecutor and the defence lawyer will ask the witness questions.

The public

The public and media are able to sit in the public gallery to watch events unless the judge has ordered that the court should be closed.

What happens in court?


If a defendant/accused pleads guilty or is found guilty, the magistrate or judge may decide on the sentence at the end of the hearing or trial, or adjourn the proceedings and set a date for a sentence hearing.


Bail is an undertaking by the defendant/accused to come back to court for the trial or sentence. In some cases the magistrate or judge may release the defendant/accused on bail.


In an appeal, the judge will listen to the arguments presented by the parties and decide whether an error of law was made or some crucial fact was overlooked in the original hearing.

Support after court

There are a range of organisations that can help both defendants and victims of crime after a hearing.

Download/print the full Going to court document.​ (PDF)