If you have received a court attendance notice for a NSW local court, it will look something like this.
Your court attendance notice will state the details of where and when your case will be heard, along with your details, offence and the details of the prosecutor.
If this is your first time going to court and you are nervous, don’t worry. The fact that you have never been to court before is probably a goods sign for the magistrate who will hear your case!
If you have received your court attendance notice for a NSW local court and you can’t make it, simply not turning up is probably the worst thing for you to do.
The court can decide your case anyway, which is not likely going to be the most favourable outcome for you, and not only that, the court may make a warrant for your arrest.
You can apply for the date of your hearing to be changed, or, for minor charges, you may be able to submit written pleadings.
Your attendance notice should also come with a facts sheet – which is the police account of what happened. Make sure you read this carefully and work out whether you fully agree with the police ‘facts’ or not.
Once you have received your court attendance notice, you now have to make some important decisions. The three main ones are probably, how should I plead, do I need a lawyer and what should I bring with me on the day?
How to plead
The first question is simple – how to plead is up to you, however before deciding if you will plead guilty or not guilty you need to completely understand what you are charged with. If you plead guilty, it means you are agreeing with ALL of the police facts.
So if, after reading the police facts there are a few things you believe did not happen, or happened differently to how the police have recounted them you should not plead guilty.
It is sometimes possible to have the facts amended before your case is heard, and if you agree one hundred per cent with them after adjustment, you can go ahead and plead guilty.
If you do decide to plead guilty there may be benefits to doing so – such as a more lenient sentencing and your case is much more likely to be finalised on the same day, meaning that you won’t have to come back to court and can put it all behind you.
The earlier you plead guilty, the better, as courts reward those who plead guilty early on. You may still even be able to avoid getting a criminal record by pleading guilty.
Do I need a lawyer?
Lawyers can be expensive, but if you have a lot to lose, it may be worth it. If you are not sure about how to plead, or what your options are, speaking with a lawyer is not a bad idea.
Many even have free first consultations so you can get an idea about costs as well as what a lawyer might be able to achieve for you.
A good criminal lawyer will have relevant experience in the kind of matter you are charged with, they will know the best ways to proceed and can let you know all your options.
There may be a valid defence to your actions, or a lawyer may be able to get unreliable or illegal police evidence against you kept out of court.
If money is a real issue for you but you really feel that you need legal advice, speak to legal aid and see if you are eligible.
You will need to do this BEFORE your court date. Some local courts may have a duty solicitor available, who can provide you with legal advice on the day.
What do I need to prepare/bring with me to court?
Make sure you know where you are going ahead of time. Running late will only add more worry to what may already be a stressful day. You can also bring character references and an apology letter to the court to show the magistrate which they can take into account when determining your sentence.
In addition, be prepared to spend hours, maybe even the better part of your day waiting for your case to be heard. Just because you are required to turn up at 9am on your court attendance notice, this does not mean your case will necessarily be heard then.
Everyone who has a matter before the courts will be required to turn up at this time and there is no way of knowing exactly when your case will be held – magistrates simply go down their lists.
You are allowed to bring a friend or relative with you to court, so consider doing this if you feel they can support you during the day.