The criminal courts: What this chapter covers

This chapter first gives an overview of the criminal court processes introduced in 2013 by the Criminal Procedure Act 2011, and then explains in more detail the different stages of the criminal court process, including:

  • ways of accessing legal advice, including legal aid
  • the process and options for making a plea
  • two alternative processes for dealing with criminal offending: diversion, and restorative justice conferences
  • issues and processes that arise before the trial, including bail, name suppression, and the key pre-trial processes that the courts use to manage cases, including case reviews and jury trial call-overs
  • the trial, including how evidence is given, and the verdict
  • sentencing
  • appeals.

The chapter then explains:

  • the rights of victims, and the services available to support them through the court process
  • how the jury system works
  • the right to withhold information about minor criminal convictions under the “clean slate” scheme.

    Note: The chapter “Common crimes” has information about some specific types of minor criminal offences – including shoplifting, tagging/graffiti, minor assaults, drug offences, and pāua poaching and other fisheries offences. “Common crimes” explains what the prosecution has to prove to get a conviction in these cases, what defences you might have to the charge, and what a typical sentence might be, particularly if you’re a first-time offender.

Key terms and definitions

Case review – If a defendant pleads not guilty to any charge punishable by a prison term, the case goes to a “case review”. The purposes of the case review include examining why the charge is being defended and seeing if the case can be sorted out without going to a trial. The case review will be dealt with by the court registrar unless there is an issue that needs to be addressed by a judge – for example, if the defendant wants a sentence indication. (See “Pre-trial processes” in this chapter.)

Categories of offences – Under the new Criminal Procedure Act there are four categories of offences, with Category 1 offences being the least serious and Category 4 the most serious. The court processes are different for the different categories. (See “Overview of criminal procedures” in this chapter.)

Complainant – A person who has allegedly had a crime committed against them.

Defendant – Someone charged with committing a criminal offence.

Probation officer – These people attend court on behalf of the Ministry of Corrections. Their main function is to recommend a specific type of sentence for a defendant. They can also prosecute people for failing to do part of their sentence.

Prosecution – The party taking the case against the defendant. Usually this will be the police.

Registrar – A trained court staff member who has powers to deal with cases where both parties agree on what should happen. This means that a lot of cases do not need to be brought before a judge unless the judge has to decide something.

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