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Court Processes

Court processes

Going through court can be a very daunting and scary process, especially if you don’t know what to expect and could possibly get a criminal record at the end of it.

This section gives you an idea of what to expect when you go through the adult court system.

How do I know I’ve been charged with a crime?

If the police think you have committed a crime, they have to investigate. If they think they have enough evidence to convince a court that you did the crime, then they’ll charge you. This means that they have asked the court to decide on whether you’re guilty or not. Once you have been charged, they will mail or give you a summons sheet which tells you what crime you have been charged with and when and where to go to court for the first hearing – this is the first step to the court process.

I’m going to Court, do I need a lawyer?

If you’re going to court, it’s good to have a lawyer to help you out, but you’re not required to have a lawyer. Some people choose to represent themselves, but it can be very difficult, and if you slow down the process a lot, the judge may not be very happy with you wasting their time.

If you’re charged with a serious offence but you can’t afford a lawyer, you might be able to get legal aid. If your offence is minor, then you can get help from the Duty Solicitor at the court. This is a lawyer at the court who can represent people who don’t have their own lawyer.

Will I be arrested before I go to Court?

Sometimes when the police want to take you to court for a crime they think you have committed, you will be arrested. This will usually happen if the crime you’re being charged with is serious or the police think you might be dangerous. Once you’ve been arrested, the police can keep you in custody until you go to court. You’ll stay in the police cells until your court date or until you’re released on bail.

If the police arrest you and later decide not to take things further, they have to let you go. It is also possible for the police to charge you but decide that they don’t need to arrest you if the crime isn’t very serious.

What is bail?

When you are charged with a crime, the general rule is you must remain in custody (locked up) unless you were granted bail. If you get bail, you’re allowed to go but you have to come back for your next court hearing. Usually, when the court gives you bail, there will be conditions, e.g. you might have to live at a certain address, be home between certain hours, not contact a certain person etc.

Will I get bail?

Police Bail

If the police arrest you but can’t take you to see a judge straight away, they might place you on police bail. You can normally get police bail if your crime isn’t too serious, the police don’t think that you’re dangerous, and they think you’re likely to show up to court.

If you get police bail, this means that you’re allowed to go, but you have to come back for your court hearing as long as you meet your bail conditions. Police bail expires when you appear in court for the first time.

Court Bail

When you go to court for the first time, and your case isn’t resolved at the first appearance, you will need to apply for bail to stay out of custody. You need to apply for court bail even if you were given police bail. If the police don’t have a problem with you getting bail, then it’ll usually be quite easy and the court registrar will sign off on it. If the police don’t want to give you bail, then the judge has to decide whether to give you bail. The Duty Solicitor at the court can help you apply for bail.

Will I get in trouble if I don’t follow the bail conditions?

Bail conditions are very specific about what you can and cannot do. If you don’t keep to your bail conditions or you don’t show up for your court hearing, you can be arrested by the police, and it’s likely you will not be granted bail again.

To find out more about bail, check out the Community Law Manual.

I’m going to court, give me some top tips!

  • Dress neatly and tidily. Wear formal clothing where possible.
  • Do not wear anything offensive.
  • Behave politely at all times.
  • Do not swear or use offensive language in court.
  • Be on time (preferably turn up 15 minutes earlier).
  • Call the judge “Your Honour” or “Sir/Madam”.
  • Do not interrupt a judge.
  • Turn your mobile off or put it onto silent mode.
  • If you don’t understand something, you may ask the judge to explain it to you when it is your turn to speak.
  • Stand when the judge enters and leaves the courtroom.

What do I do when I first go to court for a criminal charge?

Each court works slightly differently. Most courts have lists on the walls that tell you which courtroom your case will be heard in. If you can’t see a list or you’re not sure what to do, you can go to the reception counter to ask. You can also ask them where you can find a duty solicitor to help you out with your case. You should discuss your options with the duty solicitor before the hearing – they’re free.

Often, you will need to wait for your name to be called before you enter the court. Once you’re called, you will be shown where to stand. The charge against you will be read out, and you or your lawyer will say your plea.

What is making a plea?

At some point, you will need to make a plea. This means deciding and saying whether you’re guilty (you did it) or not guilty (you didn’t do it) of the crime the police have charged you with.

Generally, you don’t have to make a plea the first time you go to court for your case. The court usually gives you a bit of time to think over what you’d like to plead. This is called “remanding” your case, and will likely be the option that your duty solicitor will recommend to you on your first court day.

If you plead guilty, then you’ll go straight to sentencing, sometimes on the same day, other times a bit later. If you plead not guilty, then there will be a hearing on a later date. This is where the Judge or jury decides whether you’re guilty or not guilty of a crime. You will be given time to prepare.

Can I change my plea?

You can change your plea before you’re sentenced. However, if you want to change your plea from guilty to not guilty, you will need to show exceptional circumstances for the court to approve your change of mind.

For more information about making a plea, check out the Community Law Manual.

I’m going to court but my English is not very good, what should I do?

The courts have an interpreter service which you can request for. You should request for an interpreter as soon as possible before the scheduled hearing.

Can I speak in Te Reo Māori at my hearing?

Yes, you will need to fill out a form notifying the court of your intention to speak in Māori. Take this form to the court or tribunal as soon as possible and at least 10 working days before the scheduled hearing or your hearing could be delayed.

Can I get name suppression?

Name suppression is only available in limited situations. Usually, these are available for victims and defendants of certain sexual cases (aimed at protecting the victim), defendants of Youth Court cases and any children who are complainants or witnesses under the age of 17.

In very limited circumstances, the court has the authority to provide name suppression for other cases, e.g. safety of a person, causing extreme hardship, the risk of an unfair trial.

Do I have to choose between a judge or a jury?

If you have committed an offence with a possible imprisonment term of at least 2 years, you’ll get to choose whether you want a judge or a jury to decide on your case. Any offence with a maximum prison term of less than 2 years will automatically be decided by a judge.

What is a jury?

A jury is a group of 12 people who are chosen randomly from the population in the area. They listen to the case and decide whether they think you did the crime you are accused of. Juries can only make decisions about facts – what they think happened. They can’t make any decisions about what they think the law says.

What’s the difference between a trial by jury and a trial by judge alone?

If you choose a trial by jury, then the jury will make decisions about what actually happened. Then the judge will have to decide what the law says about what the jury says happened.

If you choose a trial by judge alone, then all the decisions are made by the judge.

What happens at a hearing?

At a hearing, both sides have an opportunity to try to convince the court of their side of the case. You do this by presenting evidence and calling witnesses. A witness is a person who stands up in court to say what they personally experienced regarding the case. If you’re the accused, you can choose whether or not you want to give evidence as a witness yourself. If you do choose to give evidence as a witness, you have to be completely honest.

If the judge or jury decides that you’re not guilty, then you are free to go straight away. If they decide that you are guilty, then you will have to go to sentencing.

Do I have to testify if I’m a witness for a case?

Being a witness can be very stressful. If you have been summoned as a witness and you’re not the accused, then you’ll have to come to court and testify. If you don’t come, you can be arrested and taken to court.

If you have work, your employer must give you time off work to act as a witness, but they can choose whether or not to pay you for your time away. You might be able to claim expenses from the court, but you’ll not be paid as a witness.

What do I need to prepare if I’m a witness?

You should arrive at court 15 minutes before the time you’ve been asked to appear. You should wear something tidy. Take your court summons with you and also any evidence that you’ve been asked to bring with you, for example, documents, photographs, bills etc. Make photocopies of these documents and keep the photocopies at home, as the court will want to keep the originals for several months.

It might be a while before the court calls you as a witness, so bring something quiet you can do while you wait.

How do I give evidence?

When you appear as a witness, you’ll come to the stand and firstly make an oath to promise to tell the truth. You’ll then be asked to give your evidence, or if a video recording was done previously, that will be played. The Crown (government) lawyer and the defence lawyer will both then be allowed to ask you questions about your evidence. The judge will make sure you’re not feeling harassed, or if you’re confused, you can speak to the judge about it. If you think the question is inappropriate, you can ask the judge if you have to answer the question. You will have to answer if the judge says you do.

What happens if I lie as a witness?

When you come to the stand as a witness, you’ll have to swear to tell the truth on a bible (if you’re Christian), or the Koran (if you’re Muslim), or your holy book, or make an affirmation if you’re not religious or do not have a holy book. It will be a crime to lie after making an oath.

If you lie when you’re testifying, it is called perjury. Perjury is a serious crime and the maximum penalty is up to 7 years in prison.

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