Supreme Court of Western Australia

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Court Procedure

What Happens in Criminal and Civil Trials

What happens in a Criminal Trial

The accused appears in the dock, which is a special place in the courtroom set aside for accused persons to sit. A document known as an 'indictment' is presented by the prosecutor. The indictment details the alleged offence. It is read by the judge's associate to the accused who is asked to plead 'guilty' or 'not guilty'. This process is referred to as the arraignment.

If the accused pleads 'guilty', he or she will be sentenced by the judge. If the accused pleads 'not guilty' the trial begins.

The jury is selected by ballot from the panel of jurors who have been summoned for that sitting. Each juror must take and oath or affirmation to bring in a verdict according to the evidence produced in the court.

Once the jury has been selected, the prosecutor starts with an address to the jury, outlining the State or Commonwealth case against the accused. After the prosecutor’s opening address, the defence may also address the jury. The prosecutor then calls witnesses to give evidence, who the defence can cross-examine. After the cross-examination has finished, the prosecutor may re-examine the witness to clarify evidence which was given in cross-examination. The defence case follows the same procedure. If the defence have not chosen to address the jury at the start of the trial, it may do so before it calls any evidence.

After all the evidence has been presented, the prosecution and the defence review their cases in final addresses to the jury. The judge then instructs the jury about matters of law relevant to the case and identifies factual issues that the jury will have to consider.

The jury leaves the courtroom to consider the evidence and to reach a verdict. If the jury's verdict is 'not guilty', the accused is said to have been acquitted and is usually free to leave the court.

If the jury's verdict is guilty, the accused is said to have been convicted. To reach a verdict of guilty, the jury must find that the prosecution case in respect of a particular charge has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

The convicted person becomes known as "the offender" and will be sentenced by the judge. Sometimes the judge may remand the offender in custody or bail for sentencing on another day. This usually happens when the judge needs more information, such as medical or other special reports, which he or she may need to take into account when handing down sentence.

What happens in a Civil Trial

Civil proceedings in the Supreme Court begin with the filing of a writ, summons or notice depending on the claims or action. Various procedures are then followed leading to the trial of issues. Some of these procedures may resolve the issue by negotiation and mediation, and avoid action in court. Matters that cannot be resolved are entered for hearing.

The court procedure for a civil trial is similar to that of a criminal trial except that a jury is almost never required. The party taking the action is referred to as the plaintiff, and the party defending the action is the defendant.

The judge must decide the case on the evidence and according to the law and will decide what remedy the successful party should have. Usually the unsuccessful party is ordered to pay all costs.

Last updated: 19-Jul-2012
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