Given the extremely high amount of criminal cases making their way through the South Australian court system, many defendants, victims, families and the police were becoming more and more frustrated with significant delays.
Generally, if a person is reported or arrested for a criminal offence, the police need to perform their investigations (which can often take months), refer the matter to their external prosecutions unit who have to consider the evidence, and determine if formal charges should be laid.
If charges are to be laid against an individual, a summons needs to be prepared, then presented to the Magistrates Court for signing, and then police need to personally serve the summons on the accused by often driving to their home address.
Police may need to make more than one attempt to serve the summons if the accused happens to be unavailable at the time of the first offence. The summons is a formal court document advising the accused of the date and time of his/her first attendance in the Magistrates Court.
So the above process is complex, costly and very time consuming. It often means that from the date of the offence, the accused and other interested parties can wait more than six months before receiving a summons and attending Court.
To combat the delays and the significant stress that can result from waiting so many months to attend Court, a new forum has been established to deal with certain matters quickly. This is called the Early Resolution Court.
"If you receive a phone call from the police indicating that you will be attending the Early Resolution Court, you should still seek legal advice immediately and at the least, well before the hearing date."
Some offenders will be offered the opportunity to participate in the Early Resolution Court, but many others will continue to be dealt with via the standard Magistrates Court process. The Early Resolution Court deals with minor cases including:
- Drink driving, speeding and other traffic offences;
- Minor drug offences;
- Minor assault offences including fighting;
- Minor dishonesty offences;
- Minor public nuisance offences, including loitering, acting in a disorderly manner or resisting police.
Those who may be eligible for a hearing in the Early Resolution Court have their matter dealt with very quickly following the offence (sometimes just a couple of weeks). Not everyone who has committed minor offences is eligible to be dealt with in the Early Resolution Court and it tends to be at the discretion of police.
The individuals who are deemed eligible for hearing in the Early Resolution Court are not personally served with a summons by a police officer. Rather a police officer telephones them shortly after the offence and advises the person what they are being charged with and the date and time they are to attend court. Most people who attend the Early Resolution Court plead guilty and can be sentenced on the spot and have their matter finalised that same day.
Before attending the Early Resolution Court, the individual has an opportunity to collect the documentation and evidence regarding the offence before the hearing date. They can collect the documentation from a police station (with photo identification) and it can also be posted or emailed. This means that the individual who has been accused of an offence knows precisely what evidence the police are relying on to substantiate the charge, and what information they will advise the court at the hearing.
At the Early Resolution Court, the Magistrate will call your name, advise you of the specific offence details and ask if you plead guilty. If a guilty plea is entered, the police prosecutor has an opportunity to summarise the offence and then you have an opportunity to tell the Magistrate anything relevant about the offence and provide reasons why the Magistrate should be lenient in sentencing.
The Magistrate’s sentence will be influenced by your contrition, the circumstances of the offence, whether you have prior criminal history as well as other factors.
If you receive a phone call from the police indicating that you will be attending the Early Resolution Court, you should still seek legal advice immediately and at the least, well before the hearing date. Your solicitor will have a chance to speak with police before the hearing and prepare submissions to persuade the Magistrate to impose a lower sentence if you intend on pleading guilty.
Today’s article is written by Associate Michael Irvine. Michael now practices in Civil Litigation and Employment Law. He has previous experience in the field of criminal law. If you have any queries or require assistance in criminal law, please feel free to get in touch directly with one of our lawyers practicing in that field; Toni Monteleone or Nes Alexandropoulos.