The District Court trial is held before a Judge and 12 members of a jury. In some cases the trial might be heard by a Judge only. There is a prosecutor and a defence lawyer who questions the witnesses called before the court. The purpose of the trial is to establish beyond reasonable doubt whether the accused is guilty or not guilty of the offence(s).
Who will I see in the District Court? (Diagram)
You will see the following people at the trial of the accused in the District Court.
The person who is accused of committing the offence. They sit in the dock near a corrective services officer who is present at all times.
The judge controls the courtroom and ensures evidence is relevant. If the accused pleads guilty or the jury finds the accused guilty, the judge will decide the sentence. The judge is addressed as ‘Your Honour’.
The judge’s associate
The judge's associate wears a plain black robe and no wig and sits below the judge. They help the judge by reading out the charges, taking the accused plea and asking the jury for its verdict.
Crown prosecutor and a legal clerk
A Crown prosecutor is a barrister who works for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. They present the case against the accused. They are assisted by a legal clerk. The Crown prosecutor will wear and robe and a wig.
The accused is usually represented by a barrister and a solicitor. The barrister speaks on behalf of the accused. The solicitor gives instructions to the barrister on behalf of the accused. The barrister will wear a robe and a wig, but the solicitor usually does not.
The jury is present if the accused pleads not guilty. The jury is made up of 12 people selected at random from the community. They decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The jury remains in court unless the judge is discussing a point of law with the lawyers.
The bailiff will sit or stand near the jury. They announce the beginning and end of court sessions look after the jury, call witnesses to enter the court room to give evidence and administer the oath or affirmation to the witness.
Occasionally court reporters record what is said during the trial on tape or on a shorthand machine. Often, court proceedings are recorded remotely.
People whom the prosecution or defence call to give evidence. Both the prosecutor and the defence lawyer will ask the witness questions. Witnesses are not allowed to be in the courtroom until after they have given evidence and been excused by the judge from being required to give further evidence.
The public and media are able to sit in the public gallery to watch events unless the judge has ordered that the court should be closed. However provisions of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1978prohibit the publishing of any information that can lead to the identity of the sexual assault complainant.
Click here for an enlarged image
(Source: Queensland Court. (2002). Our Courts…an inside look. p.15)
- There is usually some time delay between the dates of the Magistrates hearing and the District Court trial. Police and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) will keep you advised of when the trial is scheduled to be heard
- It is very important that the police or the ODPP are advised of any periods of time that you expect to be away or unavailable for court so that the scheduling of the trial does not cause you undue inconvenience
- It is just as important to advise the police and/or the ODPP of your new address and contact number if you move residences during court procedure or investigation.
Everything said in court is evidence and must be true and relevant to the case.
When answering questions, you should:
- Tell the truth – it is a crime to lie in court
- Take your time
- Only give evidence of what you saw, heard, felt or did - not what other people told you
- Answer the questions in your own words
- Only give information that was requested
- Never answer a question you do not understand - ask the lawyer to repeat or explain the question
- If you don’t know the answer or can’t remember, say so
- Not speculate or give personal opinions unless asked
- Ask for a break if needed, but do not discuss your evidence with anyone during this break.
Yes, after the offender has been charged there will be a number of court appearances.
- You may be required to give evidence during the committal hearing in the Magistrates Court. Here you may be questioned by the prosecutor and defence lawyer
- If the case goes to trial before the District Court you will be required to give evidence. The prosecutor and defence lawyer will question you. Sometimes the Judge may also ask you questions
- Measures will be taken to keep you separated from seeing the accused. The investigating officer for your matter will be present on the day to assist and guide you. The investigating officer will only be able to sit in the court room if they have been excused by the court
- The court may be closed while you give evidence, but this will be at the discretion of the Magistrate or Judge. That is, members of the public will not be allowed in the courtroom, although the jury will still be present during the trial.
Further information about the trial process is outlined in detail by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions; this can be accessed on the ODPP web site
What if I am afraid to give evidence, or I find it difficult to talk about what happened to me in detail during testimony?
The prosecutor may ask the magistrate or judge to declare a witness to be a special witness. This may include children, a victim of the crime or witnesses who are likely to be disadvantaged or suffer severe emotional damage. The prosecutor can seek approval for special arrangements to make it easier for special witnesses to give evidence. Because you are the complainant of a sexual offence, you are eligible for consideration of these special measures. The magistrate or judge will make the decision about measures to be taken.
They may include:
- Putting up a screen between you and the accused
- Allowing you to have a support person in the court
- Allowing you to give evidence before the trial by video link from a remote witness room
- Closing the court to the public.
You may be able to have a support person present during the courtroom proceedings, this will however, be at the discretion of the Magistrate or Judge.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has Victim Liaison Officers to help you while the case is going through court.
Their role is to:
- Keep you informed on when the case will go to court and if it is necessary to be a witness
- Arrange for you to meet with the ODPP legal officer or Crown prosecutor to discuss what will happen in court
- Organise a court support person
- Help you write a victim impact statement that explains how the crime has affected your life. The judge will consider this when deciding a sentence if a accused is found guilty
- Refer you to specialised organisations for support and counselling.
Will the court take into consideration any stress or trauma, which I may have suffered, as a result of the crime committed upon me?
(Info from ODPP fact sheet 26 ‘Making a Victim Impact Statement’)
As a survivor of a violent crime, you have the right to tell the court how the crime has affected you. One way to do this is through a ‘Victim Impact Statement.’
- A victim impact statement explains how a violent crime has harmed you and how it has affected your life. It is a written statement that is signed by you and presented to the court when the accused is being sentenced. The statement will help the judge understand how you have been affected by the crime
- The Victim Impact Statement must also be given to the accused person’s lawyers and will probably be read by the accused person.
More information about making a victim impact statement is available on the ODPP web site, which can be found at www.justice.qld.gov.au/1809.htm
If you are the victim of a crime and the offender is found guilty of the offences against you, you may be entitled to compensation from the offender. Under Queensland law, you can ask the court to order the offender to pay you.
If for some reason the court cannot order the offender to compensate you, or the offender can't pay, you may be able to apply for funds, known as an 'ex gratia payment', directly from the State Government.
More information is available on the Department of Justice and Attorney-General web site, which can be found at www.justice.qld.gov.au/574.htm
If for some reason you do not want to continue with the legal process, you should discuss your concerns with the prosecutor.
The Director of Public Prosecutions has the final decision about whether or not a case should proceed. A victim’s wishes will be considered; however, other issues, such as the interests of the community, will also be taken into account, and it may be decided that the case should go ahead.
You should ask the case lawyer at the ODPP to arrange support if you are finding the legal process too stressful.