A contested committal hearing, or contested committal, decides whether there is sufficient evidence for you to go to trial at a higher court. A contested committal is not about deciding whether you are guilty of the charges.
- Defence test the prosecution case to see if there is sufficient evidence to go to trial.
- Witnesses are cross-examined.
- Defence question police informant about investigative steps.
- Test of sufficient evidence a very low threshold. Almost all accused are committed to stand trial.
The Magistrate at a committal hearing is deciding whether a jury, properly directed, could find you guilty. Not that they would find you guilty or that they will find you guilty, just that there is enough evidence for you to be committed on.
The committal test is a fairly low threshold to enable someone to be committed. The aim is to sort out what is worth proceeding with or as it is sometimes described “sorting the wheat out from the chaff”.
At a committal hearing it is the prosecution who are presenting their evidence. It is very unusual for the defendant or any of their witnesses to get in the witness box or give evidence at this stage.
The Magistrate at the end of the contested committal can dismiss all the charges against you if they “do not believe there is sufficient evidence that a properly directed jury could convict you”.
Most of the time a committal hearing is used to get further information about the charges by asking questions of the witnesses and for clarifying issues for either trial or plea.
It is important to go into a contested committal hearing with a strategy that you understand. Your lawyer needs to be telling you why you are having the committal and what benefit you will gain. They also need to be explaining to you the benefits of a plea of guilty at the earliest opportunity and whether the benefit of the contested committal hearing is going to outweigh that benefit.
At the end of the committal the defendant is asked whether they “plead guilty or not guilty.”