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By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim

Fans of Judge Judy and dramas like Boston Legal, Ally McBeal and LA Law can now enjoy all the drama of real life court cases, straight from the courtrooms of the Downing Centre.

For the first time ever in Australia, crews have been given unprecedented access to all areas of Australia’s busiest court complex to film an observational documentary series.

Producers were given time with magistrates, court staff, defendants and complainants, and several courtrooms were decked out with small fixed-rig cameras to capture the highs and lows of court proceedings.

The 10-part series, which is due to air on Foxtel later this year, gives viewers a front row seat to the legal process, including the way cases are run and how decisions are made.

Central to the series are the court’s twelve magistrates, who are responsible for deciding the futures of tens of thousands of people every year.

Education and entertainment

Throughout the series, magistrates offer additional commentary to explain what’s happening in the featured cases.

Each 30-minute episode follows two or three cases, from drink driving to drug possession, and assault to larceny.

Until recently, filming inside courtrooms was severely restricted in New South Wales and our legal system has been slow to adopt advances in technology, and new ways to give the community an insight into the operation of the courts.

This is different to countries like the United States, where the broadcasting of entire cases has been occurring for decades.

Concerns about such broadcasting revolves around the privacy of participants, security issues and the risk of bringing the legal system into disrepute by turning magistrates into celebrities and courtrooms into scenes of soap operas.

However, privacy concerns were addressed by inviting those filmed to sign release forms, and the benefits of providing the community with an understanding of the court system are seen as outweighing the risk of turning proceedings into a spectacle.

Positive impact of broadcasting

It is hoped the series will not only be educational, but act as a deterrent to would-be offenders.

The show also aims to shine a spotlight on social problems, and questions of ethics and morality that exist in our society – demonstrating that issues are not always black and white, or ‘easily clarified.’

Viewers are set to see for themselves that magistrates are not as ‘out of touch’ as radio shock jocks and tabloid newspapers would like the public to believe. Rather, each case calls for a range of factors to be taken into account, and magistrates are required to give reasons for their decisions.

As Judge Henson of the court explains: “Research shows that confidence in the criminal justice system is higher amongst people who understand how it works and this program will give the community an insight into how magistrates make their decisions.”

Indeed, those words are backed up by studies which have found that members of the public who are given all of the facts will often hand-down penalties equivalent to, or more lenient than, those delivered by magistrates and judges.

The series, which is called Court Justice: Sydney’, was filmed over a six-week period last year and producers expect that it will be a big hit. If it meets expectations, it may ultimately be franchised.

Executive Producer for CJZ, Michael Cordell says: “Gaining television access to our courts is one of the last frontiers of observational filmmaking in Australia. We’ve seen a lot of police shows, ambulance shows and the like, but we rarely get a chance to observe what happens in our courts, which are critical to the way society functions.”

Crime figure

By Blake O’Connor and Ugur Nedim

The southern Sydney suburb of Earlwood was the scene of a public execution earlier this week, when 35-year old crime boss Pasquale Barbaro was shot dead while leaving an associate’s house.

Mr Barbaro was the target of a failed assassination attempt in November 2015, when a gunman fired a barrage of bullets at him on Balmain Road in Leichardt. The attempt occurred a month before he was due to face charges of manufacturing the drug ice on rural properties in NSW.

Monday’s execution style hit involved at least one gunman, who is reported to have jumped out of an Audi four-wheel drive and fired up to seven shots.

Three Pasquale Barbaros

The Griffith-based Barbaro crime gang is said to be affiliated with the Calabrian Mafia, a powerful Italian underworld group. Barbaro’s Grandfather, also named Pasquale, suffered the same fate in 1990, and another Pasquale Barbaro was shot dead with underworld figure Jason Moran in 2003.

Yet another related Pasquale Barbaro is currently serving thirty years in prison over the largest ever ecstasy bust in Australia, which occurred in 2007 when a shipping container full of tomato tins containing the drug was discovered in 2007.

Timing of the hit

The latest hit was executed one night before a Sydney Court was due to be played phone recordings of Barbaro speaking with Farhard Quami, the head of street gang Brothers for Life.

No stranger to trouble

Mr Barbaro had a number of run-ins with business partners and the law.

Barbaro and a business associate, Aaron Sabbah, opened a bar and restaurant in Glebe which later collapsed owing almost $300,000 in rent, causing tensions between the pair and those from which they obtained finance.

Sabbah was recently imprisoned for 12 months after demanding money from a mechanic shop owner whilst wielding a large black dildo in the company of two stocky men. During the sentencing proceedings in Downing Centre District Court, Judge John North stated:

“… the offender can be seen to be carrying a large black dildo in his right hand, which he is swinging as he walks in”.

Why was Barbaro killed?

There are several theories as to why Mr Barbaro was assassinated, none of them conclusive. Crime Journalist Keith Moor believes other underworld figures suspected Barbaro of being a police informant:

“The suspicion is he was probably killed for breaking the code of Omerta which is the code of silence”.

But given the number and nature of Barbaro’s underworld associations, and the friction caused by some of his dealings, the investigation into his murder could be a long and drawn out process.

Lawyer Gunned Down

Barbaro’s execution is certainly not the first time a person suspected of having links to the Calabrian Mafia has been assassinated.

In March of this year, criminal defence lawyer Joseph Acquaro was gunned down outside his Brunswick restaurant in Melbourne. This was after Acquaro warned by police in June 2015 that his life was in ‘grave danger’.

Acquaro represented a number of Calabrian underworld figures, including convicted drug supplier Francesco Madafferi and crime figure Rocco Arico.

Since the beginning of 2012, nearly two dozen people have died and more than 100 other have been injured in Sydney shootings.

Fairfield in Sydney’s west is reported to be the ‘most dangerous suburb in Sydney’, with the highest number of shootings, including four within a two week period.

By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim

A Magistrate at Downing Centre Local Court recently made the decision to lift a suppression order on the Sydney school at the centre of allegations that a female teacher had a sexual relationship with a male student.

Magistrate Jacqueline Milledge declined to extend an interim suppression order over the name of the school, saying it is important for the community to be aware "this matter is afoot".

Her Honour did, however, suppress the identity of the teacher in order to protect students, considering more students may come forward as victims or witnesses.

No plea against charges

The teacher, who worked at Sydney Grammar School – one of Australia’s most prestigious boys’ schools where school fees cost $30,000 per year – did not attend court for the hearing.

As the charges are ‘strictly indictable’ – which means they will need to be finalised in a higher court – the defendant’s lawyers were not required to enter a plea, and they refrained from doing so.

The teacher has been charged six counts of having ‘sexual intercourse with a person aged between 17 and 18 years under special care’ in contravention of section 73 of the Crimes Act, which carries a maximum penalty of four years’ in prison, and one count of indecent assault.

The court heard that the teacher and the boy were involved in extra-curricular school activities that required them to spend time alone together.

It is alleged a sexual relationship developed in that context, which lasted two to three months.

The student allegedly reported the relationship to a school counsellor last month.

Sydney Grammar ‘supports parents and students’

Court documents claim some of the offences took place at the woman’s home, where she is alleged to have kissed and had sex with the boy twice. 

It is further alleged the teacher had sex with the student four times at the school between February 1 and March 31 this year.

Sydney Grammar School has released a statement confirming NSW Police charged a member of its staff “with serious misconduct of a sexual nature”.

The statement said that as soon as the school became aware of the allegations, the teacher was suspended and banned from contact with students, pending an outcome on the matter.

“Parents at the school were written to about the situation, and support has been provided.”

Sexual abuse in private schools

The case raises further concerns about the misconduct of teachers in elite schools, several private Sydney schools having been named in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Those schools include Knox Grammar, Trinity Grammar School, The King's School and St Ignatius College, with allegations going back as far as the 1980s.

The Sydney Grammar school teacher was granted bail last week, and Ms Milledge adjourned the proceedings until December 8th.  

Defendants seeking justice and victims wanting closure are being left waiting as extensive court backlogs place extra pressure on our already struggling criminal justice system. 

It has been reported that a seventeen-year old complainant in a sexual assault case has been unable to attend school for 5 years, waiting for her alleged tormenter – her uncle – to be brought to justice and give her some closure. 

On the other side of the coin, defendants – many of whom ultimately have their charges withdrawn or thrown out of court – are increasingly being held behind bars for months or even years awaiting the finalisation of their cases.

Justice Delayed…

The NSW District Court is struggling to clear its backlog of cases. 

At the end of July this year, 2042 criminal trials and 1195 sentencing cases remained outstanding in the District Court – nearly double its caseload at the end of 2010, when there were 977 pending criminal trials and 722 sentencing matters.

Police Preferred Over Courts

Government funding to the NSW Police Force has risen significantly in recent years despite declining crime rates, but similar levels of extra funding have not been extended to our courts in spite of vastly increased caseloads.

Criminal Defence Barrister Phillip Boulten SC has criticised the state government’s failure to adequately funding courts, saying:

“[the] government has provided ample resources for police investigations … [and] the police have been very efficient in arresting people… [but] there hasn’t been the same level of resources applied to the justice system”.

Harsher bail laws have led to a sharp rise in people being ‘held on remand’; locked up while awaiting the outcome of their cases. Statistics released by The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) suggest that one-third of our state’s 12,550 inmates are  now on remand.  

Of concern is the fact that nearly 40% of all defendants held on remand in 2014 did not ultimately receive a prison sentence – indicating they were either innocent or should never have been behind bars in the first place. And locking people up is expensive – the average cost to taxpayers for keeping an adult in prison is $237.34 a day, and nearly $700 a day for each child.

No Compensation

Article 14(6) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) recognises a right to compensation for those who have been wrongfully convicted:

“when a person has by a final decision been convicted of a criminal offence and when subsequently his conviction has been reversed or he has been pardoned on the ground that a new or newly discovered fact shows conclusively that there has been a miscarriage of justice, the person who has suffered punishment is entitled to compensation according to law”.

However, this right has not been recognised by Australian law. And unlike in many parts of the US, Australian jurisdictions do not have statutory schemes for providing compensation to those who are wrongly imprisoned.

This means that those who are accused of crimes and held behind bars for long periods of time, only to have the charges withdrawn or dismissed, are rarely able to achieve compensation – unless they can prove an abuse of process, malicious prosecution or other form of serious misconduct on the part of the prosecution
 

AFP

A NSW police officer has been sentenced to a 15-month section 9 good behaviour bond – which comes with a criminal conviction – over the assault of a man being held in custody at Dee Why police station on Anzac Day last year. The incident is yet another example of ongoing police brutality and abuse of powers in the state.  

Last Friday, Leading Senior Constable Shaun Moylan was found guilty of two assault charges in Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court. The 41-year-old officer was captured on a CCTV camera violently pushing Mark Adamski twice in a charge cell. 

Mr Adamski was affected by alcohol when he was arrested hours earlier over an alleged domestic assault in Narrabeen. The 32-year-old – who owns a recruitment agency – was being held in the cell when he and Moylan had a heated verbal exchange. 

Evidence at the hearing

During the defended hearing, CCTV footage was played showing Moylan open the cell door and confront Adamski, before pushing him in the chest. The constable leaves, the two continue to argue and then Moylan re-enters the cell pushing Adamski once more, this time in the throat. 

The second push resulted in Adamski’s head slamming against the back of the cell wall. 

After the assault, Adamski pleaded with police to call an ambulance, but no medical attention was offered. On being released, Adamski was forced to catch a bus to Manly Hospital, where he was treated for injuries, which included a hematoma on the back of his head.

At the initial court hearing in May, Moylan claimed he was innocent, despite the evidence contained in the CCTV footage. 

His criminal defence barrister cross-examined Adamski to the effect that he had “downplayed” his role in the incident and “exaggerated” Moylan’s. 

However, other police officers on duty at the time backed up Adamski’s version of events.

Senior Constable Daniel Gill told the court that Moylan had used “significant” force and “cupped his hand” around Adamski’s throat during the second push. He also confirmed that Adamski had been requesting medical help, and that none was forthcoming. 

Another officer working at the station that night, Constable Brendon Kitchener, testified that the use of force had disturbed him to the point that he reported it to other colleagues. 

At a defended hearing in July, it came to light that Moylan had joined Constable Zoe Barrett at the station desk following the assault and remarked, “I shouldn't have gone in there.” 

Barrett said that Moylan, who was the acting supervisor at the time, went to the custody area to help another officer. She said she could hear loud noises coming from the “area and then it went quiet.” 

The officer also told the court that she looked up at a monitor screen and saw a man falling backwards in the cell with Moylan standing at the open door.  

On the following day, Constable Moylan – who’d been suspended from duties on full pay since July 2015 – claimed he was acting in self-defence and gave his version of the events. 

Moylan testified that on the night of the incident, Adamski had been yelling obscenities, so he decided “as a courtesy” to open the cell door to speak with him and calm him down. He claimed that this method had worked for him in the past.

He said that upon doing so, he immediately felt threatened, claiming that Adamski clenched a fist and said, “I will fucking have you.” At this point, the constable said he thought he was about to be attacked.

But last Friday at Downing Centre Local Court, Magistrate Susan McIntyre dismissed Moylan’s self-defence claim as “almost absurd.” She said the CCTV footage shows that Adamski didn’t move towards the constable “to any significant extent” and remained “well within the confines of the cell.” 

She found him guilty of the assault occasioning actual bodily harm and common assault.

Sentencing

During the ensuing sentencing hearing, officer Moylan's barrister submitted that his client had already paid a “heavy price” over the incident, and that any criminal record would impact on his future employment. He argued the constable should be given a Section 10, which would mean avoiding a criminal record. 

However, Magistrate McIntyre was unsympathetic, noting that the officer was “in a special position” and should not have abused his power. She sentenced him to a Section 9 bond, which carries a conviction.

As for Mark Adamski, he was found not guilty of all charges brought against him.

Police brutality

Of course, this is not the first case involving an abuse of powers by NSW police. 

There’s the high profile case of Jamie Jackson Reed, who was restrained by police at the 2013 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. In 2014, Magistrate Michael Barko found that police had used excessive force when apprehending the 18-year-old man. 

And just last month, English backpacker Liam Monte announced he was suing NSW police over an institutional-cover up of his alleged assault, which involvied an off-duty police officer on April 19 2013. After a slight altercation in a McDonald’s on George Street in Sydney’s CBD, several men followed Monte to the entrance of the restaurant and one, off-duty police officer Osvaldo Painemilla produced a badge and said he was under arrest. 

Believing the badge to be a fake, Monte grabbed it and left. Painemilla’s friends then pursued Monte up George Street and pulled him out of a taxi. A bus driver who witnessed the assault said the backpacker was struck about ten times in the face as he lay on the ground. 

Monte was taken to hospital suffering severe facial bruising and a suspected fractured eye socket. 

After being discharged from hospital, detectives from the Rocks police station arrived at Monte’s hostel and arrested him for stealing. 

On hearing the case in 2014, Magistrate Michael Barnes described it as an abuse of process. He concluded that police had brought the prosecution against Monte to "somehow negate the suggestion that the force applied” to him “was otherwise completely unjustifiable.”

Magistrate Barnes found the evidence supported the police charges of stealing the badge and gave Monte a Section 10, which means he escaped a criminal record.


 

A backpacker who was prosecuted for a minor offence after allegedly being bashed by a NSW police officer is now suing the Force, accusing it of an institutional cover-up over the failure to investigate or discipline an off-duty officer involved.

The trouble for Liam Monte started one Friday night in April 2013. He and some mates were eating at McDonalds on George Street in the Sydney CBD, larking around. It is understood the men were throwing French Fries, and that one of the fries landed on the shoulder of Dennis Schafer, who was there with an off-duty police officer named Osvaldo Painemilla, both of whom were intoxicated.

A dispute ensued and the two groups of men left the restaurant. Outside, Officer Painemilla produced his badge, saying he was a police officer and that Monte was under arrest.

Officer Painemilla later admitted in court to consuming about 16 alcoholic drinks that evening. Also in court, the officer claimed he was trying to calm the situation down, which was completely at odds with Monte and his friends’ version of the events, as well as those of independent witnesses, who stated that the officer was highly aggressive, and was yelling threats.

The officer then pulled out his badge, after which Monte said it was fake, before grabbing it, running up the street and getting into a taxi. 

Painemilla and his friends caught up with Monte, dragged him out of the taxi, through him to the ground and repeatedly punched and kicked him while he was on the ground.

According to a statement from a bus driver who witnessed the assault, Monte was "punched approximately 10 times to the face as he lay on the ground".

Monte was taken to hospital by ambulance, suffering severe facial bruising and a suspected fractured eye socket.

Monte charged and prosecuted

Shortly after Monte was discharged from hospital, detectives from The Rocks police station in central Sydney arrived at his backpackers’ hostel, where they arrested and charged him with assaulting Officer Painemilla.

The case proceeded to a defended hearing in 2014, during which the Presiding Magistrate, Michael Barnes, described the prosecution as an abuse of process by police.

The Magistrate noted that police initially charged Monte with “assaulting an officer in execution of his duty”, but that charge was later withdrawn when independent witness statements made it abundantly clear that Monte did not assault anyone, but was the victim of a vicious and sustained assault by the drunk off-duty officer and his mates.

It was only then that police charged Monte with stealing the police badge.

The Magistrate noted that police had brought the prosecution in an attempt to "somehow negate the suggestion that the force applied to Monte was otherwise completely unjustifiable".

His Honour ultimately found that the facts supported the charge of stealing a badge, but did not convict Monte, instead giving him a Section 10 bond which means that he was found guilty but no criminal conviction was recorded against his name.

Proceedings against police

Monte is now suing the NSW Police Force for damages resulting from assault and battery, misfeasance in public office, unlawful imprisonment and collateral abuse of process.

His statement of claim argues that the Force is vicariously liable for Officer Painemilla's actions, and that police investigating the incident failed in their duties to fairly investigate the matter and charge those who assaulted him.

NSW Police are yet to file a defence in the case, although last month, lawyers acting for the Force applied to the NSW District Court for security of costs – asking that Monte be ordered to pay $60,000 upfront to cover police costs in the event that Monte loses the case. That application failed.

A date for the civil trial has not yet been set.

Liar with crossed fingers

The perjury trial over the shooting of Sydney man Adam Salter continued this week, with the barrister for police officer Sergeant Sheree Bissett telling the court his client did not lie to the Police Integrity Commission.

Adam Salter was living in Lakemba, NSW in 2009 when police were called to the home by his father, who reported that his 36-year-old mentally ill son was stabbing himself. 

Present at the scene were four police officers who, it is alleged, later collaborated in fabricating a lie that would exonerate the shooter, Sergeant Bissett, for her deadly act. 

The court heard that when Adam walked towards the sink which had a knife, Bissett drew her gun and fired at his back, causing his death.

The court previously heard that the four officers – Sergeant Bissett, Constable Aaron Abela, Sergeant Emily Metcalfe and Senior Constable Leah Wilson – deliberately gave false evidence to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) over the events at the Salter home. 

Police Coverup

The officers were seen smoking and talking outside the Salters' home after the shooting, when they allegedly concocted their story. 

During the PIC inquiry, the officers gave statements which were significantly different to the consistent accounts given by the ambulance officers and Mr Salter’s father.

Sergeant Bissett claimed Constable Abela was "struggling" with Adam who had lunged towards him. 

Constable Abela’s version was different – that there was some contact with Adam, but it was "just an instantaneous reaction where my arm just came out to stop him". He then proceeded to state that he grabbed the Adam’s left arm in two places – just above the elbow with his right hand and just below the elbow with his left. 

Officer Wilson’s testimony was different again – that officer Abela placed his right hand on Adam’s shoulder before Bissett fired the fatal shot.

Officer Metcalfe’s evidence was different once again – that Abela was holding Adam around his upper torso when the shot was fired.

Due to these and other inconsistencies, the officers were charged with lying to the PIC.

Police Mishandle Mental Illness

This is not the first time Sydney police have been accused of mishandling a situation involving the imminent danger of a mentally ill person.

Other New South Wales police shootings include the killing of Elijah Holcombe, who was shot dead in Armidale the same year. 

Mr Holcombe was only 24 and a student at university when he was tracked down by plainclothes police officers who attempted to apprehend him because of reports that he was suffering a mental health breakdown. He fled to an alleyway where he was killed by the officers, who later claimed they were acting in self-defence.

Nor is this the first time police have been charged with perjury for lying about their behaviour on the job, or other forms of misconduct. In fact, 50 NSW police officers are currently facing serious criminal charges including sexual assault, child rape and domestic assault.

The trial over the shooting of Adam Salter continues. 

Mental Health Clinicians Now On Call in WA

Last year, the Western Australian police force announced a plan to "decriminalise" mental health by diverting those suffering from mental health conditions away from the criminal justice system.

Traditionally, police have been expected to deal with the complex issues surrounding mental health while carrying out their duty to protect the public and enforce the law. Police can face difficult situations with minimal training on how to deal with mentally ill people, and have been quick to resort to heavy-handed tactics – even deadly force.

With the number of call outs related to mental health doubling between 2007 to 2014, it is now more important than ever that the police receive the proper training and assistance required to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations. 

The WA initiative has seen $6.5 million diverted from existing budgets to provide mental health clinicians to work alongside police on the beat and on call-outs. 

Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said the program would allow for people to be clinically assessed and properly dealt with at the scene, hopefully keeping them away from the back of police vans. 

Last year the Victorian Government pledged to establish a similar program, targeted at providing urgent mental health support in the community while reducing pressure on the police force. The program aims to provide emergency care to those in a critical state due to mental illness. 

Phone hacking

Going to court isn’t cheap, especially if your case is listed for a lengthy District or Supreme Court trial. And while the rich can afford a good criminal defence team, many struggle to secure a competent defence even when pitted against a well-resourced prosecution.

Large commercial cases can often be the priciest; but perhaps surprisingly, bitter divorce lawsuits involving the ultra-rich are also at the top of the list. In both situations, lawyers are often the only real winners – sapping enormous resources out of their wealthy clients.

Here are some of the most expensive criminal cases from the UK, US and Australia.

UK’s Most Expensive Criminal Case: Newscorp Phone Hacking Scandal

The 2014 Newscorp phone hacking scandal not only made international headline, but is believed to have cost a whopping £95 million to run, making it the most expensive criminal case in Britain. This figure included court costs, legal fees and the resources ploughed in to the extensive police investigation. The barrister fees for the trial certainly didn’t come cheap, costing £20,000 per day.

The £95 million figure didn’t include all costs associated with the scandal. The U.S Securities and Exchange Commission revealed that the investigation had cost Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation a total of £315 million. This included payments to the 718 hacking victims, as well as the legal costs associated with multiple civil and criminal cases. The grand total is estimated to have reached £600 when the cost of redundancy pay-outs and lost revenue were taken into account.

US’s Most Expensive Criminal Trial: McMartin Childcare Sexual Assault Case

This disturbing case started when mother Judy Johnson suspected that her three-year-old son had been sexually abused by one of his teachers at the McMartin family’s day care centre, and reported the matter to police. Soon after, other parents came forward to report their own suspicions. 

The allegations included forcing children to perform in pornographic films, and even the performance of “satanic ritualistic acts” of slaughtering animals in front of the kids before sexually abusing them. Five teachers at the centre were arrested and charged will multiple offences.

The proceedings would become the most expensive in US history, running from 1983 to 1990. But after all that time, the case didn’t even reach finality – as all charges against the defendants were ultimately dropped due to insufficient evidence.

Australia’s Most Expensive Criminal Investigation: Claremont Killings

Three young women disappeared from Western Australia almost 20 years ago, sparking the largest and most expensive criminal investigation in our nation’s history. Two of the three bodies turned up in bushland, while a third was never found.

Experts were flown in from overseas to assist, and even NASA was called upon to analyse video evidence. The leading investigator, Detective Superintendent Paul Ferguson, took perhaps an even stranger approach: speaking with a convicted serial killer for ideas about how to uncover what happened to the missing women.

But despite the pricey investigation and several promising leads– the mystery remains unsolved to this day.

 

If you are going to court, it’s important to check what can and cannot be taken inside the courthouses to ensure your day in court runs as smoothly as possible.

While not all smaller courthouses are fitted with scanners in the entry way, the Downing Centre Courthouse is.

In fact, on particularly busy mornings in the Downing Centre – which is the larger of the two court houses on Liverpool Street, Sydney – the queue to enter the building and go through the scanners can be all the way out the doors of the building.

Some items are not allowed to be taken in to court, and may be confiscated on the spot. Other items are handed back to you on your way out. You will be given a receipt for those.

Prohibited Items

There are four broad categories of items that can be confiscated from you:

  1. Anything reasonably believed to be a restricted item or offensive implement;
  2. Anything reasonably believed to be capable of concealing a restricted or offensive implement;
  3. Alcohol, unless you have the permission of a Magistrate, Judge or Registrar; or
  4. Any other thing that the security officer believes on reasonable grounds is of a class prescribed by the regulations

There are probably no surprises here in terms of the first category. Security officers can confiscate:

  • Guns
  • Knives
  • Grenades
  • Bombs
  • Missiles
  • Spear gun
  • Crossbow
  • Sling shot
  • Mace
  • Taser guns
  • Nunchucks

But while it may seem obvious not to bring items from the above list, this isn’t necessarily clear to everyone.

One Newcastle man attempted to bring a crossbow into court earlier this year, and court staff are regularly called upon to confiscate of knives and mace (pepper spray).

Being found attempting to take these items in to court can even result in criminal charges.

One notable, and controversial, exception to this rule is the recent agreement between courts and police for police officers to bring their guns to court, and even inside the courtroom. Previously, police were required to leave guns outside the courthouse like everyone else unless they have permission to bring them inside.

Aside from weapons, there are a range of objects that you are not allowed to take into court. These include:

  • Scissors 
  • Glass water bottles or other glass containers
  • Sporting bats capable of being used as a weapon
  • Hammers and screwdrivers capable of being used as a weapon
  • Scooters, skateboards and other personal transport items
  • Spray cans
  • Marker pens
  • Unlike weapons, or devices used to hide weapons, if these items are confiscated, you can get them back on your way out.

You will have to leave your name and phone number and get a receipt on your way in, so that you can collect your items when leaving.

While selfie sticks are allowed in to court, they can set off alerts in the scanner, and those bringing them into court should be aware that it is against the law to take photos, videos or record sound while inside a courthouse without permission.

One busy journalist found herself in trouble after accidently taking in a key ring with a small knife she used to chop food, and a capsicum spray canister that she had bought in Western Australia, where it is legal. 

She had completely forgotten the items were in her bag, and was shocked to find herself facing criminal charges which carry a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.

Fortunately, the Magistrate was sympathetic and dismissed the case against her. But it’s far better to plan ahead than to face an unpleasant and stressful situation, particularly if you are already at court in relation to other criminal proceedings. 

 

Courtroom 5.6

The Downing Centre Court Complex has six levels of courtrooms, housing both Local and District courts. 

The Downing Centre court list contains a many dozen names each day for a variety of different types of court proceedings. 

If you’re not sure of the difference between a trial and a hearing, or what happens at a committal, this blog will answer all these questions. Whether you are representing yourself in court, or simply want to know a bit more about what goes on inside the courtroom, read on to have the different types of court appearances explained.

Annulment application

If your court case is heard in your absence and you did not attend, you may be able to appeal the decision by lodging what is known as a section 4 annulment application. You have two years after the conviction or sentence was imposed to make this application, and you will need to show good reasons why you didn’t attend in the first place.

Appeal 

There are different types of appeals, the two most common of which are:

  1. Severity appeals, which are appeals on the basis that the penalty was too harsh, and
  2. Conviction appeals, which are appeals against being found guilty

You normally have 28 days to appeal a decision from the Local court to the District, or three months if you have a good reason for the delay. 

Bail Application / Release Application

If you are refused bail at the police station, the next step will be for police to bring you before a Magistrate who will decide to release you on ‘bail’. Bail is a promise to attend court, and may come with or without conditions. An application to be released on bail used to be called a bail application, but is now called a release application.

Committal Hearing

Criminal cases start in the Local court, but more serious charges can progress to a higher court, such as the District or Supreme Court.  A committal hearing is a Local Court proceeding to decide whether there is enough evidence for a case to go to a higher court, or whether the charges should be dismissed.

Defended Hearing 

A defended hearing is Local Court proceeding to determine your guilt or innocence. Witnesses will normally take the stand and answer questions from the prosecution and defence. The magistrate will then decide whether or not you are guilty.

Mention 

A mention refers to any short court appearance, typically lasting no more than a few minutes. It can involve asking for an adjournment (ie for the case to go to another day), simply entering a plea of guilty, or indicating a plea of not guilty and asking the magistrate to order the prosecution to provide you with all of the materials they are relying upon, which is called the ‘brief of evidence’. 

Reply to Brief 

If you plead not guilty, the magistrate will normally order police to serve the brief of evidence within a certain timeframe, usually 4 or 5 weeks. At the same time, the magistrate will relist the case for another mention in order for you to go through that material and either confirm your plea of not guilty, or change it to guilty. That court date is called reply to brief.

Section 32 Application 

A section 32 application is where you asked the magistrate to dismiss (throw out) the charges because you are suffering from a mental condition, and because it is more appropriate for you to be placed on a mental health treatment plan than to punish you under the regular law.

Sentencing Hearing or ‘Plea’ 

If you enter a plea of guilty – or are found guilty – the next step is for the magistrate to decide upon your penalty. This process is called a sentencing hearing, or ‘plea in mitigation’, or simply a plea. The magistrate will normally read any relevant materials, such as the police papers and your character references, and hear verbal submissions from your lawyer and the prosecutor before deciding the penalty.

Trial 

A trial is a District or Supreme Court proceeding where your guilt or innocence is decided. Like a defended hearing, witnesses normally attend court and are questioned by both sides. However, a trial usually occurs before a jury of 12 people who decide guilt or innocence.

So there you have it – some of the most common proceedings you are likely to come across in the Downing Centre.