Overview of how the criminal courts work
Four offence categories for different levels of seriousness
Category 1 offences: Fines or community-based sentences only
These are offences for which you can only be fined, or sentenced to a community-based sentence like community work or supervision, rather than jail. You'll be dealt with in the District Court, and usually by Justices of the Peace or a Community Magistrate rather than a judge.
Category 2 offences: Less than two years' jail
These are offences with a maximum penalty of less than two years in jail. If you deny the charge, your trial will be in front of a judge sitting without a jury. Usually this will be in the District Court.
Category 2 offences also include offences that are punishable only by a fine if committed by a company or other corporate body (like an incorporated society) but punishable by a jail term of less than two years if committed by an individual person.
Category 3 offences: Two or more years' jail
These are offences with a maximum penalty of a jail term of two years or more (but excluding Category 4 offences). Usually these are heard by the District Court. You have the option of either being tried by a judge alone or having a jury trial.
Note: Usually if you're charged with a Category 3 offence you have to choose whether or not to have a jury trial at the time that you plead not guilty, which will usually be within three weeks after being charged. It's therefore very important that you get good legal advice very early on.
Category 4 offences: Very serious crimes
These are the most serious offences, including murder, manslaughter, torture and terrorism offences. They're dealt with in the High Court. Usually there'll be a jury trial, but a judge-alone trial can be ordered in some cases.