Who decides the outcome of my case?
Your case may be heard and decided by a judge alone or by a judge and jury, depending on the seriousness of the charge and, in some types of cases, what you (“the defendant”) choose:
- For Category 1 cases, (where penalty less than two years jail), your case is heard by a judge, Justices of the Peace or a Community Magistrate in the District Court.
- For Category 2 cases (where penalty is less than two years jail), your case is heard by a judge alone in the District Court.
- If the offence carries a jail term of two years or more (Category 3 cases), you have the right to choose a jury trial, which will usually be in the District Court. Otherwise, the case will be heard by a judge alone in the District Court.
- With the most serious offences, such as murder, torture or terrorist acts (Category 4), the charges will usually be dealt with by a High Court jury trial.
(For the different categories of offences, see “Overview of criminal procedures / Four offence categories” in this chapter.)
Your basic rights under the Bill of Rights Act when standing trial
Under the Bill of Rights there are two key restrictions on what you can be tried for:
- no retrospective convictions – you can’t be convicted of an offence if the thing you did wasn’t a criminal offence at the time that you did it
- double jeopardy – you can’t be tried or punished for an offence if you’ve already been convicted or found not guilty of the offence, or if you’ve been pardoned for it.
If you have to stand trial, these are your rights:
- no undue delay – you have the right to be tried without unnecessary delay
- a fair hearing – you have the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial court
- presumption of innocence – you have the right to be presumed innocent until you’re proven guilty according to the law
- no forced confessions – you have the right not to be forced to be a witness or to admit guilt
- your presence at the trial – you have the right to be present at your trial and to defend yourself (which is usually done through a lawyer)
- witnesses – you have the right to question the prosecution’s witnesses. You have the right to present your own witnesses and for those witnesses to be questioned under the same conditions as prosecution witnesses
- right to trial by jury – you have the right to a trial by jury if the offence you’re charged with has a penalty of more than three months’ jail
- interpreters – every person who’s charged has the right to have the free assistance of an interpreter if they can’t understand or speak the language used in court.