In Victoria, the court system is hierarchical, with the Magistrates Court handling the majority of cases, and the County and Supreme Courts handling the more serious cases. The High Court is the highest level of appeal available.
Most criminal cases are dealt with in the Magistrates Court, under the Magistrates' Court Act 1989, as they have the jurisdiction to handle all summary criminal offences, such as drunk and disorderly charges, offensive behaviour, loitering, and resisting arrest.
The Magistrates Court also handles many indictable offences, although they cannot impose prison sentences of more than two years for any single offence. If there have been several offences committed at the same time by the one person, the Magistrates Court cannot hand down sentences that exceed 5 years imprisonment, unless an act states otherwise.
The County Court, which is an intermediate court operating under the County Court Act 1958, can hear criminal matter directly, and can also hear matters on appeal from the Magistrates Court. The County Court has the jurisdiction to hear all cases except for murder (including some murder-related offences) and treason.
Some matters may be transferred from the Supreme Court to the County Court, and the Director of Public Prosecutions decides which cases can be applicable for this. As a result, the County Court does handle the bulk of serious offences, including drug offences, sex offences, driving offences, firearms offences, and sometimes even manslaughter.
If a sentence of imprisonment is handed down in the County Court, in place of a non-custodial sentence, the case may be appealed against in the Court of Appeal, with leave from the Supreme Court.
The Trial Division and the Court of Appeal are the two separate branches of the Supreme Court in Victoria. The Supreme Court only hears the most serious criminal matters in Victoria. As with the District Court, a Judge and jury, or a Judge sitting alone may conduct trials, the majority of which have been referred to the Supreme Court from the lower Courts, where there has been a question of fact or a question of law.
The Court of Criminal Appeal hears all appeals from the Supreme Court, Magistrates Courts, County Courts and some Tribunals. The appeal process involves only looking at the disputed point, or error, of law, and not at the entire case.
The Court will hear the appeal and base their decision on the evidence, as well as the arguments of both the Defence and the Prosecution. The Court may either dismiss the appeal – which means there will be no change, or allow the appeal and make a new decision on the case, or order a retrial. The Chief Justice, the President of the Court of Appeal and some other Judges of appeal make up the panel for the Court of Appeal.
Three Judges will usually sit for an individual case, although sometimes there may be two assigned.
The Court of Appeal, which is presided over by a panel of three to five Judges, hears criminal and civil appeals from the County Court, and the Trial Division of the Supreme Court. It also hears appeals from proceedings that have come before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
The Children's Court of Victoria has jurisdiction under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005.The criminal division hears cases against people aged between 10 and 17 years old at the time of the offence; however, if a youth has turned 19 years old at the commencement of their court case, they will be transferred to the Magistrates Court.
Being involved in the criminal or police process can be quite demanding, rigorous, and time-consuming. Hiring the right criminal lawyers can often make a substantial difference in your case.