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Communtity Law Manual | Criminal Courts | The criminal courts

The criminal courts

Information for defendants, witnesses and victims

What this chapter covers

This chapter first gives an overview of the processes in the criminal courts and then explains in more detail the different stages of the criminal court process:

  • Overview of how the criminal courts work explains the four main offence categories and summarises the different processes that apply for each category, including which court will deal with the charge and whether there will be a jury trial.
  • Getting legal help explains the different ways you can get free or partially free legal advice at different stages of a criminal case, from when you’re first arrested, to your first day in court, to getting a legal aid lawyer for your whole case.
  • In How criminal cases begin: Pleading, bail, and name suppression, we explain the different steps and issues at the start of a criminal court case, including pleading guilty or not guilty, getting released on bail while you’re waiting for your case to progress, and when the courts will grant name suppression (keeping your name confidential).
  • Alternatives to going to court: Diversion and restorative justice explains two alternative processes for dealing with criminal offending: diversion is a scheme run by the police where if you admit the offence and meet other conditions you can avoid getting a criminal record, while restorative justice conferences are ways of dealing with criminal offending outside the courts in a way that focuses on repairing the harm caused.
  • The lead-up to the trial: Pre-trial processes explains the key processes the courts use to manage cases and prepare for the trial if the defendant has pleaded not guilty, including case reviews and jury trial call-overs
  • The trial explains basic rights in the Bill of Rights for people facing trial, as well as how evidence is given, and the verdict. For the right to speak te reo Māori in courts, see the chapter “Te reo Māori”.
  • In Sentencing, we summarise the main legal principles that guide judges when deciding what sentence to give, and we set out the different types of sentences.
  • In Appeals, we explain what rights you have to challenge a judge’s decision if you’ve been convicted of or sentenced for a crime.

The chapter then continues:

  • Victims explains the rights of victims and the services available to support them through the court process.
  • Juries explains how the jury system works, including when you can be excused from jury service.
  • Finally, The clean slate scheme explains the right to withhold information about minor criminal convictions in certain cases – for example, when you’re applying for jobs.

    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. For information about the Youth Justice system, go to

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