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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.



There’s always something interesting happening behind the walls of the Downing Centre Court complex in the Sydney CBD.

Here are 5 interesting cases to look-out for in 2016.

1. Selim Mehajer Faces Voter Fraud Charges

Deputy Mayor of Auburn, Selim Mehajer, hit the papers in 2015 for his extravagant and controversial wedding, which saw an entire street closed down for the occasion, resulting in traffic chaos.

After his wedding date, Mehajer was once again in the media spotlight, this time facing allegations of forging ballot papers back in 2012. Mehajer, along with seven others, are facing charges of voter fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment.

Mehajer adamantly denies the charges, saying it is “all a political game… full of hidden agendas to make me step down”. Together with his seven associates, Mehajer is set to face the Downing Centre in February.

2. Man Accused of Spreading HIV

Telling a partner that you’ve contracted an STI isn’t the easiest conversation to have – but it is against the law to knowingly withhold this information and then have sex with another person.

Last year, a 28-year-old man who passed HIV to his partner was stopped at the airport by Australian Federal Police. He has since been charged with recklessly infecting grievous bodily harm, and is due to face Downing Centre Local Court in coming weeks.

3. UK Diamond Thief

A jewellery store in Sydney’s iconic Queen Victoria Building was the location of choice for diamond lover, UK citizen Matthew Osborne, who is alleged to have stolen a $145,000 diamond from the store in 2013.

Mr Osborne was recently extradited from Queensland – where he was convicted of stealing a rare pink diamond worth $250,000, although the ring has never been found since.

Osborne’s latest case will be heard in Downing Centre Court later this year.

4. Partner of Man Haron Monis on Trial for Murder

Before the Sydney Siege took place, Mr Monis and his partner Amira Droudis were already facing extremely serious charges – including the murder of Monis’ former wife, who was stabbed a total of 18 times before being set on fire in the stairwell of her Sydney home.

Late last year, Ms Droudis pleaded not guilty to the charges, and will be facing trial later this year. The Crown reportedly alleges that while Monis was the mastermind behind the plan, Ms Droudis carried out the murder.

An application for a judge-only trial was successful, meaning that no jury will decide the guilt or innocence of Ms Droudis. The trial is expected to take place in mid-2016.

5. 91-year-old Drug Mule 

A 91-year-old Sydney man was charged with drug importation after returning to Australia with 4.5kg of cocaine hidden in his luggage.

The retired oral surgeon is one of the oldest alleged drug mules in the world. He declared his innocence to the media– saying he was unaware that the soap he carried for someone else contained $1 million worth of drugs.

The case will continue through the courts at Downing Centre in 2016.

Gun in courtroom

As discussed in last week’s blog, 2015 was a big year at the Downing Centre!

From an escaping defendant to a father who attacked the man convicted of sexually assaulting his daughter, the year has been packed full of drama.

Here are more the year’s highlights, challenges and changes.

Inquest into the Martin Place Siege

The Martin Place Siege shocked Sydney and the world, leading to an inquest into the police response to the incident.

The inquest has already revealed the incompetence of the DPP solicitor who opposed Monis’ bail application, the failure of the DPP make any application to revoke Monis’ bail under the New Bail Act (even after he made social media threats in the days leading up to the siege) and the questionable police and ASIO response to the incident itself.

The inquest began January and is ongoing, with the results to be determined sometime in the middle of this year.

Police allowed guns in court

Security in courthouses is the domain of the Office of the Sheriff of New South Wales – not the police, who are merely witnesses in court.

But despite opposition from lawyers and many judges, the powerful Police Association succeeded in obtaining authorisation for officers to routinely take their guns into the courtroom with them; even have them on the witness stand while being cross-examined.

Prior to 10 August, like everyone else, police were not allowed to take weapons into court with them, unless they had sought and received permission to do so.

Famous faces in the Downing Centre

Retired Socceroos star, Mark Bosnich, faced court after being charged with driving recklessly when he crashed his car with more than three times the legal amount of alcohol in his system. Fortunately for the star, his case was dealt with leniently and he did not receive a criminal conviction.

X-factor Judge Luke Jacobz was found guilty of his second drink-driving offence – which earned him the title of “serial offender” from the Magistrate.

Mr Jacobz lost his licence for one year and received a $700 fine – which automatically carries a criminal record. And Jacobz wasn’t the only former Home and Away star to come before the court – Johnny Ruffo also faced court charged with several driving offences. His case has been adjourned until late this month.

Unusual cases:

All kinds of cases make their way before magistrates – including the one involving a teen who did a nudie run for a free kebab. 

Unfortunately for the hungry young man, he was caught by police and given a $500 criminal infringement notice for offensive conduct. He then took the matter to court and was fortunate enough to receive a ‘section 10’ (now section 10 dismissal or conditional release order) in court, meaning he did not receive a criminal record, fine or other penalty.

In another case, a jury trial had to be aborted after the Judge noticed a female juror winking and making suggestive gestures to the defendant.

Uber versus Taxis:

The long-standing battle between Uber and the taxi industry continued throughout the year.

Shortly after vigilante Russel Howarth was ordered to stop performing citizens’ arrests on Uber drivers, Uber itself was prosecuted by the RMS.

But the Magistrate found that the RMS didn’t have the authority to prosecute, forcing them to drop the 24 charges laid against Uber drivers.

Finally, at midnight on 18 December, the NSW state government declared the ride-sharing business legal, ending the dispute surrounding Uber’s legality – at least for the time-being.

With 2015 now behind us, we look forward to what this year holds for Sydney’s busiest courthouse.


From view of the Downing Centre Court building

As 2015 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on the year that was in Downing Centre Court.

1.    Riot Squad Halts Court Case

Back in February, a jury trial in Downing Centre District Court ground to a halt after police received information about a plan to disrupt the proceedings. 

The trial concerned an armed robbery allegedly carried out by two men outside Broadway Shopping Centre in 2013. One of the men was charged with stealing a car, aggravated break and enter, shooting at a home, larceny and participating in a criminal group.

The NSW Police Riot Squad responded with scores of heavily armed specialist officers descending upon the courthouse.

Several black Riot Squad vehicles were seen outside the courts, and a police helicopter circled overhead.

Despite the commotion, the building was not evacuated. The trial in question was adjourned until the following week.

2.    Man Escapes Custody at Downing Centre Courts

You might recall our earlier blog about Ali Hussain Chahine, the 33-year-old man who escaped from the dock in courtroom 3.1 of Downing Centre District Court in September this year, in the presence of one of our very own criminal lawyers.

Mr Chahine was in court for the purpose of a bail application – but he made a run for it at around 4pm after his application was refused by Judge Scotting.

Upon escaping the dock, Chahine ran out a fire escape and boarded a bus on Castlereagh Street, reportedly disembarking near Central station.

He was arrested at a unit in Alexandria the following week, and charged with ‘escaping lawful custody’ and ‘assault occasioning actual bodily harm’ for supposedly assaulting two corrective services officers.

3.    Drug Charges Dominate Court Lists

As usual, drug charges featured heavily in Downing Centre court lists.

The year kicked off with 214 people arrested and charged for drug offences at the Field Day music festival, held in Sydney’s Domain on New Year’s Day. The majority of those charged appeared in Downing Centre Court in January and February.

High-profile drug cases included those of Rebecca Hannibal and Matthew Forti, both charged with supplying ecstasy to Georgina Bartter, who tragically died of a drug overdose at Harbourlife Music Festival in 2014.

Ms Hannibal was sentenced on 26 June to a 12 month section 9 good behaviour bond. Matthew Forti  received a 22 month prison sentence, with a 12 month non-parole period on 29 August

In an unrelated case, high-profile DPP lawyer Lisa Munro fronted the Court on 28 September charged with the possession of cocaine, after police observed her carrying out a drug deal in Potts Point in July. She pleaded guilty was handed a 12 month section 10 bond (now conditional release order without conviction), without criminal conviction.

Finally, Olympic kayaker Nathan Baggaley appeared alongside his younger brother Dru on the 18 December for charges of drug manufacturing and conspiracy. Both men are alleged to have played a role in the production of 18,000 tablets of 2CB and were planning to manufacture ice. Both were sentenced to a non-parole period of two years and three months imprisonment.

4.    Police Officers Facing Court

Although they are entrusted with enforcing the law, a number of NSW Police Officers fronted the Downing Centre Court this year.

46-year-old Senior Detective Andrew John Clarke pleaded guilty to high-range drink driving after blowing a reading of .170 during a random breath test on the 10th of July.

Subsequent investigations revealed that he had been driving unlicensed for over 20 years.

Mr Clarke was sentenced in October to a fine of $2,000 and an order preventing him from applying for a licence for nine months.

Another former police constable, Allan Robert Simon, was sentenced in September after helping his drug dealing girlfriend evade police detection. He received a sentence of 1 year and 10 months imprisonment, but was ultimately released on an intensive corrections order.

5.    Father Attacks Child Sex Offender

In an emotionally charged incident in August this year, the father of a young girl who was sexually assaulted by a former serviceman bashed the man after he was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment.

The 64-year-old South Coast man, who remains unnamed for legal reasons, was convicted of two charges of aggravated sexual assault on a child under the age of 10.

According to eyewitnesses, it took five people to restrain the father.

It is unknown whether he has been charged for the attack.

The Downing Centre Court is sure to once again be the centre of high drama and controversy in 2016.


Downing Centre Court front door entrance

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.


Court employees

Professor Kathleen Daly describes the Australian criminal justice system as a ‘collection of interdependent agencies’ that enact, enforce and administer criminal laws.

The system certainly has its flaws, and the public perception appears to be that its outcomes are seldom just.

Wheels of ‘Justice’

Criminal laws, processes and procedures are embodied in countless pieces of legislation, cases, bench books, practice directions, policy manuals and the like – but ‘the criminal law does not enforce itself’ – it needs people with specific roles and responsibilities to facilitate outcomes.

That’s where the agents of the system come into play – performing their duties interdependently to keep the wheels of ‘justice’ rolling.

Some of the main agents are:


Police are public servants tasked with preventing crime, protecting members of the community and maintaining public order.

They are required to investigate crime – liaising with the complainant and witnesses, and gathering evidence. Where they suspect on reasonable grounds that there is sufficient evidence against a suspect, they are able to arrest, detain, charge and prosecute.

Police are responsible for preparing the ‘Court Attendance Notice’ which contains the allegations against a defendant. They also take witness statements and prepare the evidence.

There are many different ‘departments’ in the police force – from General Duties Officers, to more specific departments such as the Highway Patrol and Public Order and Riot Squad.


Prosecutors run cases in court. They include police prosecutors – who prosecute matters in the Local Court – and DPP solicitors – who are qualified lawyers that prosecute more serious cases. They are supposed to present all of the admissible evidence fairly in order to assist the court in arriving at the truth, rather than to secure a conviction at all costs.

Some prosecutors also prepare case for court – which can involve liaising with defence lawyers, police and witnesses. DPP lawyers may also be called on to decide whether cases go ahead or are discontinued.

The Judiciary

The Judiciary is comprised of Magistrates in the Local Court, Judges in the District Court, and Justices in the Supreme and High Courts.

Members of the judiciary preside over all types of court cases – from short court dates called ‘mentions’, to bail applications, defended hearings and jury trials.

They are required to act fairly and apply the law impartially, and ensure that court processes are conducted in a timely and efficient manner.

Magistrates decide whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty in the Local Court, while District and Supreme Court Judges and Justices assist juries to decide guilt or innocence by directing them about the law.

The judiciary is also responsible for imposing penalties upon those who are guilty.

Prison Staff

Prison staff are responsible for supervising and controlling those in custody. They deal with people whose cases are yet to be finalised, as well as sentenced prisoners.

Prison staff mare required to maintain appropriate custodial conditions whilst maintaining discipline and order within prisons. They are also meant to assist in preparing inmates for release into the wider community.

Criminal Defence Lawyers

Criminal defence lawyers represent those who are suspected or accused of crimes, ensuring that their rights and interests are protected. Their role includes advising clients about the strength of the case against them, the applicable law, the options, best way forward and the likely outcome.

Unlike police prosecutors who often receive cases on the day of court, criminal defence lawyers will be experienced at conducting cases from start to finish – including preparing and issuing subpoenas for evidence, preparing ‘representations’ for the withdrawal of charges, fighting for withdrawal, scrutinising briefs of evidence, engaging medical and forensic experts, preparing cases for court and, of course, defending criminal charges inside the courtroom.

The courtroom work of a defence lawyer is broad and varied – from short court mention dates, to bail applications, sentencing hearings, defended hearings and the independent conduct of jury trials for more experienced advocates.

Defence lawyers need to be familiar with a wide range of counselling and rehabilitation programs which can assist their clients. Where a client wishes to plead guilty, undertaking rehabilitation can serve a dual role of reducing the likelihood of reoffending – which benefits the community – and demonstrating to the court that the client has taken responsibility and taken steps to overcome any issues, such as drug or gambling addiction, anger management issues and so on.

So there you have it – a thumbnail sketch of some of the main agents in our criminal justice system.

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.


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.


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.


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.

Criminal registry in Downing Centre

Gone are the days where after a long legal career, lawyers would wind down by “retiring to the bench” and becoming a judge.

Nowadays, the job of a magistrate or judge involves a lot of tough work; with one magistrate describing it as “a bit like putting your mouth over a fire hydrant.”

Thousands of cases pass through our local courts each year, and it can take months or even years to finalise any particular case. A standard local court list could have over 100 cases on any given day, all of which must be dealt with by day’s end.

To ease the pressure, registrars are often used to sort cases out before they come before magistrates. As well as in the Downing Centre Local Court, which is the busiest court in the state, registrars are employed now in many Sydney and regional local courts, as well as in District, Supreme and Federal courts. The roles of Registrars vary from court to court.

Registrars have some, but not all, of the powers and functions of their counterparts, and can preside over both civil and criminal proceedings.

What are the powers of a Registrar?

Local court registrars have the authority to make decisions about procedural matters; for example, adjourning cases, accepting pleas of guilty, ordering the service of brief materials, granting access to subpoenas, listing cases for defended hearings, and so on. Judicial decisions are then left to magistrates and judges; including presiding over sentencing hearings and defended hearings in the Local Court, and jury trials in the higher courts.

Under rule 8.2 of the NSW Local Court Rules, registrars are permitted to:

  • Adjourn proceedings, without the consent of the parties;
  • Make orders by consent;
  • Set times by which documents must be served on the other party;
  • Deal with subpoenas;
  • Determine preliminary matters prior to the commencement of a hearing or trial;
  • Conduct pre-trial reviews;
  • Grant costs applications; and
  • Make orders in relation to the just, efficient and timely management of court proceedings

How is a registrar different to a magistrate?

Aside from the greater limitations on the power of registrars, proceedings before registrars are often less formal. While some registrars do sit in courtrooms, these are often much smaller, and some may even sit in a small office room with none of the usual trappings of a courtroom.

This is not the case at the Downing Centre Local Court, where the Registrar sits in courtroom 4.4, on level 4.

Unlike magistrates or judges who are addressed as ‘Your Honour’, the correct way to address a registrar is simply ‘Registrar.’

From court to court, registrars and their expectations of formalities differ, and while getting to your feet is required when speaking to a Local Court magistrate or District Court judge, this is not always the case with registrars.

What are the qualifications of registrars?

Although registrars perform important administrative functions, they are not always legally qualified. However, legislation now requires that a person must be an Australian lawyer to be appointed as a registrar in the NSW District court.

While Local Court registrars do not currently need legal qualifications, the Litigation Law and Practice Committee has recommended that admission as an Australian lawyer should be made a prerequisite.


Going to court can seem like a minefield to many – when to stand, when to sit and when to bow, how to speak to the magistrate or judge, where to speak from, what to call them, what to say – the list goes on.

Adding to the confusion is legal jargon used by prosecutors, defence lawyers and whoever that person is that decides the case.

While plain English is often the best approach, it can help those who are going to court to know some of the most common terms used inside courts like the Downing Centre.

Here are some of the top ones, so you can look like a pro – or at least understand what everyone is going on about.

‘Court list’

This is the list of cases that will be heard in court on any particular day.

The Downing Centre Local court list is printed and posted on Level 4, and contains all the matters that will be heard, along with the courtroom they will be heard in.

The District Court lists are also printed and posted daily.

1. ‘Standing a matter in the list’ 

This is a handy thing to do if you can’t have your matter heard straight away – because you are waiting for a witness, a document, or maybe even your lawyer!

Asking for a matter to be “stood” or “held” in the list means that you would like your case heard later in the day.

Prosecutors, criminal defence lawyers and unrepresented defendants can all request that the case stands a matter in the list.

2. Magistrate, judge or registrar? 

Many people use the terms interchangeably, or use the term ‘judge’ to refer to all judicial officers of any court.

The difference is simple: in the local court, the judicial officer is a magistrate, and in the district court, the judicial officer is a judge.

Sometimes, the person in court will be neither a magistrate nor judge, but someone called a ‘registrar’ – who sorts out cases, decides upon adjournment applications, and undertakes other administrative duties in order to take some of the pressure off magistrates or judges.

When speaking to a Magistrate or Judge, you should address them as “Your Honour”, and a Registrar should simply be address as “Registrar”.

In Downing Centre Local Court, the Registrar sits in courtroom 4.4 – which is often where your matter will be listed on the first court date.

3. ‘My friend’ 

If you hear a lawyer and a prosecutor referring to each other as “my friend” at the bar table, this doesn’t mean that they are golfing buddies on the weekend.

Rather, this is a term used by all lawyers and prosecutors when they refer to one another. The tradition originated from a time when there were few lawyers who would indeed all know each other.

4. ‘Adjournment’

This is when the court proceedings are postponed until a later date.

An adjournment application can be made by either the defence or prosecution for a range of reasons – to receive legal advice, to await the service of materials, to obtain a medical report, to complete counselling or a program like the Traffic Offender Program or Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment program (‘MERIT’), to prepare for a sentencing hearing, and so on.

5. ‘Brief service orders’

If a lawyer requests ‘brief service orders’, they are asking for the judge or magistrate to order the prosecution to give all of the statements and other materials to the defence by a certain date.

Brief service order will ordinarily be made on the first court date if the defendant indicates a plea of not guilty, and the prosecution will ordinarily be ordered to serve the materials within 4 weeks. A further court date will normally be set 6 weeks away, to allow the defence to go through those materials and either confirm the not guilty plea, or enter a guilty plea.

The term ‘serve’ means to deliver the materials according to methods set out in the court rules – which usually require hand delivery – although the defence may agree to accept service by a less formal method, such as via email or fax.

6. ‘Interim order’ 

This is an order made by the court which will stay in force just until the next court date.

An example of an interim order is where the defendant in an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) case is required to comply with AVO conditions until the next court date, or a defendant who faces criminal charges complying with bail conditions.

7. ‘Listing advice’

A local court listing advice is a form that is usually available on the bar table inside the courtroom, which the defence is required to fill out and hand up to the court if the case is being set down for a defended hearing. The defence is required to specify a range of matters: including which prosecution witnesses they require to attend the hearing, the estimated time for the hearing, and whether or not audio-visual facilities are required.

8. ‘Representations’

Criminal defence lawyers often write a detailed letter to the prosecution in order to persuade them to drop all or some of the charges. This letter is called ‘representations’.

9. ‘Pre-Sentence Report’

A pre-sentence report (or ‘PSR’) may be ordered by the magistrate or judge after you plead guilty or are found guilty. The report contains background information about you, and says whether you are eligible and suitable for alternatives to imprisonment; such as a good behaviour bond or community service order.

PSR’s are normally ordered if the court is contemplating sending you to prison. However, defence lawyers will sometimes ask the court to order a PSR if they feel it will assist you in court.

In either case, you will need to report to your nearest Probation and Parole Services for assessment.

10. ‘Non Conviction Orders’

If the court grants a ‘section 10 dismissal or conditional release order’, it means that a criminal conviction is not recorded against your name even though you are guilty of an offence. You also escape a fine, licence disqualification and any other penalty – although a good behaviour bond can be imposed, and you may have to pay a small fee for court costs and a ‘victims compensation levy’.

So if you are going to court, all the very best to you. We hope that your ‘representations’ are successful if you are pleading not guilty, or that you get a non conviction order if you are pleading guilty!

Legal Aid matters

Attending court for a criminal case can be a nerve wracking experience – particularly if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer.

The good news is there is a range of free legal services at the Downing Centre which may be able to assist you on the day.

Here are a few of those services:

Legal Aid

The Legal Aid office is located on Level 4, opposite Courtroom 4.6.

Legal Aid offers free legal services in a range of criminal cases. Duty lawyers are available on all court days to assist those who have a matter in court, but are not legally represented.

Duty lawyers can offer advice and assistance to anyone, regardless of whether they meet the eligibility criteria or not – but if a person requires ongoing representation in court (e.g. for a more serious case or a hearing/trial) they will need to satisfy a means and merit test.

In certain cases, Legal Aid duty lawyers can seek an adjournment for defendants to obtain proper legal advice.

Duty Solicitor / Barrister

Duty solicitors and barristers are located on Level 5, near Courtroom 5.1.

They are fully qualified members of the legal profession who have volunteered their time to help members of the public free of charge.

Duty solicitors and barristers are able to assist people who are due to appear in court by providing free legal advice – and sometimes representation – for a range of criminal cases.

While you do not need to book an appointment to see a duty lawyer, it is best to arrive early as they can get very busy, and may not be able to assist everyone.

Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT

The Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) office is also located on Level 4, near Legal Aid.

It operates similarly to Legal Aid in so far as it provides free legal advice on a wide range of criminal cases, but it is targeted towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

ALS lawyers are well known within the Indigenous community, and will often be able to make a judgment as to a person’s Aboriginal status in a culturally sensitive manner.

ALS lawyers are able to provide assistance to Indigenous people on the day of court without a prior appointment.

Those who have a court case simply need to show up at the ALS office before entering the courtroom. The ALS lawyer will be able to provide them with advice before dealing with the case in court.

In more complex or serious cases, they may seek an adjournment to obtain further information or undertake preparations.

Women’s Domestic Violence Advocacy Service

The Women’s Domestic Violence Advocacy Service (WDVAS) is an initiative of the Legal Aid Commission which offers assistance to women seeking protection from domestic violence.

While they are not able to provide legal advice, they can refer women to Legal Aid lawyers – including those who are affiliated with the Domestic Violence Practitioner Scheme.

The WDVAS is are able to provide emotional support, information about the court process and a safe area where they can await their turn in court without seeing the alleged perpetrator.

The Service is also able to refer women to other community support services, including those offering safe housing, income support and counselling services.

Salvation Army Court Services

The Salvation Army has an office on Level 5.

It offers counselling, advice and emotional support to those who are due to appear in court, especially complainants and other witnesses. While they are not able to provide legal advice or representation, they can outline the court process and refer cases to a duty lawyer.

The Salvation Army also runs prison services to assist those in custody and their families, as well as post-release services to help former inmates reintegrate into the community.