Going to court for your criminal matter - FAQs

Going to court for your criminal matter - FAQs


Going to court for the first time can be a daunting and nerve-racking time. Here’s some answers to questions we are often asked:

What court will my case be heard at?

All criminal and traffic matters in NSW start in the Local Court. Sometimes, your matter may first be before a Local Court registrar before being transferred to a magistrate. Traffic matters are finalised in the Local Court. Criminal matters are split into different categories:

Summary offences – these are matters that are dealt with and finalised in the local court. Summary matters include all traffic offences and other matters where the maximum penalty does not exceed two years imprisonment. Offences like drink driving or offensive conduct fall into this category.

Indictable offences – these are more serious offences which are usually finalised in either the District Court or the Supreme Court. These offences include drug supply or importation, sexual assault or murder. 

Offences that can be dealt with either summarily or on indictment – there are a large number of offences that can be dealt with in either the Local Court or the District Court. If they are dealt with in the Local Court, the maximum penalty to be faced will be reduced to two years. These matters include offences like drug possession or assault.

If your matter is finalised in the Local Court, it will be determined by a Local Court magistrate. If your matter is ultimately finalised in the District Court, it will be heard by a District Court judge and in the Supreme Court, a Supreme Court justice. If you defend your matter in the District Court or the Supreme Court, your matter will be determined by a jury, and if you are found guilty, you will be sentenced by a judge in the District Court, or a Supreme Court Justice in the Supreme Court.

What should I wear to court?

There is no formal dress code for people attending court – you do not have to wear a suit. You should wear something you are comfortable in and that is neat and tidy. It is not a good idea to wear singlets, or thongs, or revealing clothing. 

What time should I arrive at court?

Most courts start at 9.30am and usually all matters are listed at that time. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your matter will be heard at 9.30am. There will be a large number of cases that are all listed at the same time. The order the matters are dealt with depends on the particular court and the magistrate or judge running the list. 

If you are unsure what time your matter is listed, you can search for your name or case number on the online NSW Court List.

It is useful to arrive at court earlier than the time listed. At most courts around NSW, you will first have to go through the security check. This involves putting your bags through an x-ray and then walking through a metal detector. Sheriff officers may also run a wand next to you if the metal detector detects something.  You should take out any electronic items that are in your pockets or bags and put them in the tray to go through the x-ray. This includes mobile phones and laptops. 

If you arrive late, you may find that the magistrate has already dealt with your matter in your absence. This is another very good reason to arrive early. You can be convicted in your absence and a warrant can be issued for your arrest. If you are not able to get to court on the day you are supposed to be there, you should contact the court in advance.

What times does the court sit?

Generally, most Local and District Courts lists begin at 9.30am and end at 4.00pm, Monday to Friday. A morning tea break is usually called at 11.30 for about 20 minutes and lunch is between 1pm and 2pm. 

What should I do when I get to court?

When you arrive at court the court list will be on a wall or notice board. It is a good idea to check the list to see which court room you will be in – this is particularly important where you are at a large courthouse with more than one courtroom – and which number you are in the list. At some courts, the court officer will also be making a note of people present, especially people who are at court without a lawyer.

You should wait inside the court room or immediately outside. Don’t leave until your matter has been finished. 

Before you go inside the courtroom make sure you:

  • Turn off your phone

  • Take off your hat and sunglasses (don’t rest your sunglasses on your head)

  • Don’t eat, drink or chew gum – leave food and drinks outside.

 When you go inside the courtroom, if the magistrate or judge is already there, bow your head and take a seat. If you enter the courtroom before the magistrate or judge, when it is time for them to come in, the court officer will knock on the door. Everybody in the courtroom stands and bows their head towards the magistrate or judge and then everybody sits after the magistrate or judge sits down. Try to keep quiet while other cases are being dealt with. 

How do I address the judge?

In the Local Court, if your matter is first before a registrar, you address he or she as “Registrar”. Registrars will come onto the bench wearing ordinary office-like clothing. Magistrates and Judges are referred to as “Your Honour”. Magistrates wear black robes and judges wear robes and usually a wig as well.

When your name is called and if you don’t have a lawyer, move up towards the bar table (this is the large table which faces the magistrate or judge). There will often be a microphone standing next to the table and you should stand at the microphone to speak. Take all of your things with you to the microphone including any papers or notes that you want to refer to. It is important to note that the microphone is used to record what is being said – it won’t amplify your voice.  

It is important to listen carefully, be respectful and don’t interrupt. You will be given an opportunity to tell the judge or magistrate what you want to say about your matter and to hand up material to be considered. 

How long will it take for my case to be finalised?

This depends on the type of matter you are at court for. Sometimes, it is possible to finalise simple summary matters the first time you go to court. For other matters, it may be months and in some cases, years, before your matter is finalised completely. Some of the factors that determine the time it takes to finalise a matter are:

  • The type of offence you are charged with;

  • Which court it will be finalised in;

  • Whether you are pleading guilty or not guilty; and

  • Whether a brief of evidence needs to be compiled by police.

Have you got more questions? Give us a call on 02 8590 6084 for a free case assessment. 

 This is a guide only and does not constitute legal advice.

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