Where a person is charged with a major indictable offence or a minor indictable offence and has elected to have the matter dealt with in a superior court (see Minor Indictable Offences), a magistrate conducts a preliminary examination, sometimes called a committal hearing.
At least fourteen days before the preliminary examination the prosecution must file in the Court and give to the defendant or the defendant's solicitor copies of all declarations (formal statements of witnesses) and any other relevant documents which they intend using at the preliminary hearing [Summary Procedure Act 1921 (SA) s 104].
At the preliminary examination the prosecution must present to the court what evidence they have to indicate that the defendant is guilty of the charge. The prosecution must persuade the magistrate that there is a sufficiently strong case against the defendant to put the defendant on trial before a jury (committed for trial). This is generally achieved by filing prosecution witness statements (declarations) in court prior to the committal date and the magistrate reading the witness statements prior to the hearing.
Witnesses are not generally called to give evidence before the court at this stage in proceedings, unless the court can be convinced that special reasons exist [see s 106 Summary Procedure Act 1921 (SA)]. However if the witness is the victim of an alleged sexual offence, a person with a cognitive impairment that adversely affects the person's capacity to give a coherent account of the person's experiences or to respond rationally to questions or a child of or under the age of 14 years, the Court must not grant permission unless satisfied that the interests of justice cannot be adequately served except by doing so [Summary Procedure Act 1921 (SA) s 106(3)]. Cognitive impairment for this purpose is given a wide definition and includes, developmental disability, acquired disability ,and a mental illness [Summary Procedure Act 1921 (SA) s 4(1)].
Committal hearings are held in the Magistrates Court to ensure that only those defendants against whom a reasonably arguable case can be mounted will be subjected to the stress and expense of a full scale jury trial in the District or Supreme Court.
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