This section deals with summary offences and the procedures a defendant will encounter in the Magistrates Court. A person charged with a summary offence is known as the defendant. The plaintiff in a criminal matter is the Crown (the State) but prosecutions in the Magistrates Court are run either by police prosecutors on behalf of the Crown, or by lawyers who work as prosecutors for the South Australian Police (SAPOL). SAPOL is known as the complainant who lays the charge before the court. Therefore the parties to a summary case are police and defendants.
The Magistrates Court
There is one Magistrates Court in South Australia. Registries are located in Victoria Square, in major suburban locations and in country towns. Cases are conducted before a Magistrate, or in some cases, a special justice.
Most criminal cases are the result of police action and these cases are presented by a police prosecutor from a large table (the bar table) in front of the Magistrate's bench that is reserved for the prosecutor and the defence lawyer(s).
If the defendant is represented by a lawyer, the lawyer sits at the bar table and the defendant stands in the dock (a closed, raised box usually near the front and to one side of the court).
A defendant pleading guilty remains in the dock until penalty is imposed. A defendant pleading not guilty, who is not in custody usually sits behind her or his lawyer while the trial is being conducted.
Unrepresented defendants who conduct their own trials sit in a chair placed near the bar table and facing the bench, but stand in the dock for any proceeding other than the trial itself. It is usual for a defendant in custody to remain in the dock at all times.
A shorthand writer or typist usually sits in front of the magistrate recording the proceedings. In some courts the proceedings are tape recorded.
Court hearings are generally open to the public. However, the court can be 'closed' (that is, only the people involved with the case and court officials are allowed to be present) either for the whole of the case or some part of it; for example where a child is involved either as the defendant or a witness, during a case involving a sexual offence where the person said to be the victim of the offence is giving evidence or where a witness might suffer hardship or embarrassment.
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.