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Written Notice

If you have been charged with a criminal offence or are due to appear at Downing Centre Local Court for a penalty notice or other traffic-related matter, it is important that you attend court on your nominated court date. Failing to turn up for court at the scheduled time could potentially lead to serious penalties, and the matter could be decided in your absence.

If you are going to be away on your planned court date or can’t attend for some other reason, in some cases you may be able to make your plea in writing by filling out a written notice of pleading. Provided that the court receives this notice in time, the magistrate will take it into consideration when deciding your sentence, or whether the matter will proceed to a defended hearing.

Where can I find a Written Notice of Pleading form?

The form for a written notice of pleading can be obtained from the registrar’s office at Downing Centre Local Court or it can be downloaded from the Local Court website. Once you have your form, make sure you fill it out carefully and read all the instructions. If you are at the court registry, the court staff will be able to assist you in completing the form, although they can’t give you legal advice or help you decide whether to plead guilty or not guilty.

You should make sure you include any information that is relevant to your case on the written notice of pleading, including medical records, character references, information about your personal and financial circumstances, and anything else that might be considered relevant and could help the magistrate decide the outcome of your case.

You will need to lodge your written notice of pleading at least seven days before your scheduled court appearance. If you lodge it later than that, it is possible that it will not reach the court by the correct date and the matter will be decided in your absence without taking into consideration the information on the form. If you are currently on bail and the conditions of your bail specify that you attend court, you won’t be eligible to use a written notice of pleading.

Are there any disadvantages to filing a written notice of pleading?

Filing a written notice of pleading means that you won’t be present at the time of your court date to defend yourself or present your side of the story. This can potentially mean that you may get a less positive outcome than if you were there to defend yourself.

Even if you intend to plead guilty it can be helpful to be present at your hearing so that you can answer any questions the magistrate might have. In some cases you may also be able to explain any mitigating circumstances or ask for a lesser penalty, which won’t be possible if you file a written notice of pleading. When you lodge a written notice of pleading, all the court has is the information in the form. If there are any gaps in the information you have provided, you won’t be there to clarify things for the magistrate.

If you are going to be away and have no other option, a written notice of pleading is better than not turning up to your court date, but wherever possible it is generally best to be physically present in court, even if you do intend to plead guilty.

Downing Centre District Court

Downing Centre District Court generally deals with more serious criminal cases than the local court. District courts are typically where more complex or severe criminal matters are heard, and where appeals against local court decisions are dealt with. If you have recently been through the court system at Downing Centre Local Court, and are unhappy with the outcome, you have the right to appeal to the district court.

Why do people appeal?

There are two main types of appeal you can make at a district court. You can appeal against the conviction itself if you were found guilty of a crime that you are not guilty of, or you can appeal against the severity of a sentence if you feel it was overly harsh.

How do I appeal at the district court?

If you want to appeal a local court decision you have 28 days to lodge an application. This can be done at the local court by visiting the Court Registry and filling out a form. There is an application fee to lodge an application for an appeal.

Once your application is lodged, you will receive notification of a listing date at the district court. You will need to attend court on that date and present any new evidence that wasn’t supplied on your first court date, and that might be relevant. It is also a good idea to bring along any witnesses who weren’t able to give evidence at your first hearing. If you can provide a reasonable explanation of why they didn’t give evidence at the local court, you may be able to call them to provide evidence at your appeal.

Do I need a lawyer to appeal?

You don’t need to have a lawyer with you when you appeal to the district court, but it is highly advisable. You only get one chance at an appeal unless compelling new evidence comes to light at a later date, so the district court judge’s decision is final. Make sure you present the strongest possible case by having an experienced legal representative, and you will have a much higher chance of success than by representing yourself.

Can I get a more severe sentence?

It is possible for a judge to impose a harsher sentence on appeal. But if the judge at the district court reads your evidence and the transcripts of your previous hearing and decides that your original penalty was not severe enough, they can’t give you a more severe sentence without first issuing you with a warning. If you receive this warning (known as a “Parker warning”) your lawyer will immediately withdraw your application before you can be given a more serious penalty. This is another good reason to have professional representation, as an experienced lawyer will know when this is happening, and when to take action to avoid a harsher penalty.

If you have recently been through the court process and you aren’t sure whether you have grounds for appeal, it’s a good idea to speak to a lawyer for advice.

If you decide to appeal, make sure you bring all the evidence you have available and take some time to prepare your case. You only get one chance to appeal at Downing Centre District Court, so make sure you give yourself the best possible chance of a positive outcome.

Downing Centre Courthouse

Local courts are busy places, and knowing where you need to be and what you are required to do can be confusing. If you are attending Downing Centre Local Court or any other local court and need help and general advice on procedures, the court registry or registrar is usually a good place to go.

What is a court registry?

The court registry is the office at the local court where you can get forms, deal with a number of different matters and seek advice if you are unsure where to go or what the court process involves. The court registry is usually staffed with clerical staff and although they can give you advice about procedures and help you fill out legal forms, they are not legally trained and can’t offer any legal help or advice.

What can the registry help me with?

The court registry at Downing Centre Local Court can help you with a number of procedural and administrative matters including:

  • If you are at the court for a hearing but are unsure where your matter is being dealt with, there will usually be someone from the registry near the entrance who can advise you where to go.
  • Witnessing signatures on court documents.
  • Helping you apply for an apprehended violence order (AVO).
  • Give you information about legal proceedings and help you find the right forms.

If you require more in-depth information and assistance you can ask to speak to a registrar at the local court. A registrar is a senior registry officer who can provide you with advice on a range of subjects. You will usually need to make an appointment to see a registrar, depending on availability. This service is usually called a chamber service.

How can the chamber service help me?

The chamber service can help you with applications and forms for a range of different legal issues including:

  • Apprehended violence order applications.
  • Family law applications.
  • Applications to start legal proceedings in civil cases.
  • Family law recover orders in certain circumstances or in locations where there are limited other services to do this.
  • Legal paperwork relating to civil cases, including defence and notices to stay proceedings and set aside judgement.

The chamber service can’t advise you on how to prepare a defence or what to say in a legal matter. Only a lawyer can give you legal advice or represent you in court but the chamber service can help you with the paperwork and make sure you have access to resources and information which may help you.

Do the higher courts have registries?

As well as local courts such as Downing Street Local Court, district and federal courts also have registries and registrars who can provide advice on procedures and documentation. The limitations are the same for higher court registrars as they are for registrars working in the local court.

Whatever the nature of your legal matter, if you need to attend court or file paperwork at the court house, speaking with a registrar can be extremely beneficial and can help you make sure your paperwork is complete and filed correctly. Make sure that you also seek legal advice if necessary however, as registrars can’t provide advice about how you should proceed with a legal matter or represent you in court.

Handcuffed

If you have been arrested and charged with a criminal offence, in many cases you will be offered bail. Bail allows you to remain in the community under certain conditions, rather than having to stay in custody until the date of your hearing. If your crime is not severe, and you are not considered to be at high risk of further offending while out on bail, you will probably be granted bail at the police station. If you are refused bail, you will be taken to the nearest court as soon as possible so that you can request bail there.

Police can refuse to grant you bail under a number of different circumstances which may include:

  • If you have committed an offence, such as murder, which has a ‘presumption against bail’.
  • If you have a previous history of breaching bail terms.
  • If it is believed that your release on bail could be against the interests of the community.

If police have refused to grant you bail or the offence you have been charged with has a presumption against bail (meaning you are automatically refused unless you can provide evidence as to why you should be released on bail) you will need to explain the reasons why you should be granted bail to a magistrate or judge at a local or district court.

Depending on where and when you are arrested, you may be taken to Downing Centre District Court or another local or district court in your area. It is important that you gather as much documentation or evidence as possible to support your request for bail. Recent changes to the Bail Act have meant that there are restrictions as to how many times you can request bail, so it is essential that you ensure your first application is as strong as possible.

Some of the factors that the judge at Downing Centre District Court will take into consideration when deciding whether or not to grant bail include:

  • The circumstances surrounding the offence.
  • Any previous history of criminal activity or violence.
  • Whether you have previously breached bail conditions.
  • Any character references you can obtain which can reinforce your good character and standing in the community.
  • What penalty you will be likely to receive if found guilty.
  • Whether it is likely you will interfere with witnesses or evidence associated with the case.

If you need to apply for bail at a court, it is a good idea to find an experienced lawyer to represent you and give you the best chance of success.

If your application for bail is successful, you will be required to abide by certain restrictions until your legal matter is finalised. These restrictions can include rules surrounding where you live, who you associate with, and what activities you are involved in. You may also be required to attend mandatory counselling, traffic or rehabilitation programs as part of your bail conditions.

Breaching the terms of your bail could lead to further penalisation and you may be sent back to custody on remand until your trial, so it is important that you understand your bail conditions and take steps to avoid breaching them. If you have been refused bail by the district court, you may be able to appeal to the Supreme Court if there is new evidence to support your case.

Judge use of gavel

Taking out an AVO can be stressful for both parties involved. An Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) is a court issued document that is designed to protect an individual from becoming a victim of violence or intimidation at the hands of someone else. AVO matters are heard at Downing Centre Local Court, generally in court 4.3, but it is always a good idea to double check when you arrive.

If you are the person taking out the AVO (PINOP)

If you are taking out an AVO or the police are taking one out on your behalf, you will be required to attend court at least once. If the defendant has been served with the AVO before the court date, the matter may be finalised at the first appearance. If the defendant was not served with the AVO prior to the court date, the court may be adjourned to a later date. In cases where the defendant chooses to disagree with the AVO, there will be a hearing at a later date and you may be required to attend court on a few separate occasions.

If the defendant has been previously served with an AVO but does not attend court an order can be made in their absence. The police can also make an interim order on your behalf until the matter is finalised.

If you are the defendant

If you have been served with an AVO or you have received notification of your court date for an AVO matter, it is important that you attend at the designated date and time. Make sure you arrive early and allow enough time if you need to wait around for your matter to be heard. If you agree with the terms of the AVO, the matter will probably be finalised on the first appearance. Agreeing with the AVO does not mean you are admitting to the allegations contained within it.

If you disagree with the AVO it is a good idea to seek legal advice. The matter will then be adjourned for six weeks so that both parties can prepare their evidence, which will then be presented at a hearing.

Having an AVO against you can affect your lifestyle and family relationships, as well as prevent you from getting a firearms licence and working in certain occupations. If you have been served with an AVO, it is important to think carefully about the impact it would have and whether it is justified. It is possible to defend yourself against an AVO, but it is a good idea to speak with a lawyer to find out what your best defence is and how likely it is that you will succeed.

Where can I get support?

There are a number of different support services at Downing Centre Local Court, including the Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service, which offers legal assistance and support to women who are taking out private AVOs or in cases where the woman is the defendant in an AVO. There is also a legal aid office situated on Level 4 of the Downing Centre Local Court. If you have legal representation, your lawyer will be able to discuss the process with you and direct you to support organisations where appropriate.

Going to court can be an intimidating experience, particularly if you have never been to one before. Knowing what to expect before you walk in the door can help alleviate some of your worries, and make you feel more confident during what is for most people an upsetting and stressful time in their lives. Whether you go to a large court like Downing Centre Court, or a smaller regional courthouse, the procedure is much the same.

Downing Centre Court is both a local and district court, which means that it deals with less serious matters, and with complex criminal trials. Cases can be presided over by a magistrate or judge if it’s a local court matter, or a judge and jury if the matter is before the district court.

When you arrive

Downing Centre Court, like many other courthouses, has a number of different courtrooms. Make sure you arrive early, so you have time to find where you need to be without having to rush. A list of courtrooms and cases that are being heard should be in the foyer. When you arrive at the court complex, the first thing you will need to do is check which courtroom your case is being heard in, and make your way there.

Once you arrive at the right courtroom, there will be a court officer who will generally be identifiable by a badge or uniform. You will need to let them know you are there, and they might ask you a number of questions about your case. Once you have spoken to them, they will probably tell you to sit and wait until it is your turn.

In the courtroom

You will be called in to the courtroom when it is your turn. A number of other people will be in the room, including the judge or magistrate, the prosecuting lawyer and your lawyer if you have one. Depending on the nature and severity of the case there might be other people present, such as members of the public or journalists.

Once you are before the court, you will need to let the judge or magistrate know whether you want to plead guilty or not guilty. Make sure you stand up when you address the judge or magistrate – there will generally be a microphone to speak into. If you decide to plead guilty, the matter will probably be finalised that day unless it is highly complex or serious in nature.

If you choose to plead not guilty, the court will be adjourned, and you will be given a later date to have the matter heard. This is to give you and the prosecution both time to prepare your cases, and gather any evidence you might need. If you are unsure whether to plead guilty or not guilty, it is best to speak to a lawyer beforehand as how you plead on your first court appearance can make a big difference to the outcome of your case.

Although visiting a court house such as Downing Centre Court can be nerve wracking, it is best to try to stay as calm as possible. If a lawyer is representing you, they can help to guide you through the process and alleviate any of your concerns, as well as help you get the most positive outcome possible from your court hearing.

The Downing Centre was originally built as a department store for Mark Foy's in 1908.

Mark Foy's was taken over by Grace Brothers in 1980 who traded in the Centre until 1983.

The building was then converted into a court complex which opened in 1985.

It was named the 'Downing Centre' in 1991 after former Attorney General and Minister for Justice Reg Downing.

The Downing Centre contains 7 levels of courtrooms.

The Local Courts are situated on levels 4 & 5 and the District Courts are on the lower ground level up to level 3.

The Downing Centre is NSW's central court complex and is presided over by the Chief Judge of the NSW District Court, Justice Reg Blanch, and the Chief Magistrate of the NSW Local Court, Judge Graeme Henson.

It is a classically crafted building whose exterior comprises white bricks separated by yellow sills and cornices.

Its cultural significance is reflected in its listing on the Register of the National Estate.

All in all, the Downing Centre is a great place to work.

Downing Centre emblem

There are a number of new Magistrates in the Downing Centre Local Court this year.

Magistrate Reiss has come from Ryde Local Court. He is an extremely thorough and careful Magistrate. He is frequently in the Commonwealth Court 5.5 replacing Magistrate O'Shane.

Magistrate Milledge is from Waverley. She is fantastic. Very just and fair, especially towards those who are genuinely remorseful for criminal offences. She replaces Magistrate Barkell who had primarily been presiding over defended hearings.

And of course, there are Magistrates Buscombe, Stevenson and Favretto – a great new mix for 2013.