Going to court for a criminal charge

Going to court for a criminal charge

Being at court for criminal charges is serious. You can get a criminal record and serious penalties, so get legal advice as soon as possible.

You can read more more about specific charges in these topics:

Speaking to a lawyer before going to court

It is always a good idea to speak to a lawyer before your court date, if you can. The court will expect you to do this.

A lawyer will help you understand your case and what your options are. You can get legal advice about what the charges mean, how you should plead, and how to prepare for the hearing.

Even if you want to plead guilty, seeing a lawyer can help you present a better case. See Get help.

Speaking to a lawyer at court

Victoria Legal Aid has lawyers at most Magistrates' Courts in Victoria who help people on the day of their hearing if they do not have a lawyer. Our lawyers may be able to give you legal information, advice or representation depending on your income, circumstances and the nature of your charges.

When to represent yourself

You may choose to represent yourself because your charges are minor or because:

  • a duty lawyer is not able to represent you
  • you do not have a private lawyer.

If you cannot get a lawyer to help you in court, you can still get legal advice and information about:

  • your charges and if you have a defence
  • how to prepare for court
  • what to bring to court
  • what to say to the magistrate.

If you decide to plead guilty, you will need to be prepared before you go to court. See Representing yourself in a criminal case.

What to say about the charges in court

You can plead either:

  • guilty (say you did break the law)
  • not guilty (say you did not break the law, or disagree with what the prosecutor says you did).

The prosecutor is a lawyer who is presenting evidence against you.

To plead guilty, you need to accept what the prosecutor says you did. It is important to be clear about what you are agreeing to, as there can be serious consequences. So, even if you want court to be over as quickly as possible, talk to a lawyer first.

Pleading guilty

If you plead guilty your case may go ahead on the same day. Your case may be put off to another day (adjourned) if the charges are serious and you need more time to prepare. See Pleading guilty.

Pleading not guilty

If you plead not guilty your case will be put off to another date. You (or your lawyer) and the prosecutor will have a summary case conference and discuss the case.

If you do not agree to plead guilty to some or all of the charges after the conference, your case will be put off to a contest mention or a summary hearing.

A summary hearing is where the court listens to witnesses and other evidence and then makes a decision about the case.

See Preparing to plead not guilty.

Tips for talking to the magistrate

It is important to be respectful and polite when you are talking to the magistrate. Here are some tips:

  • stand up when the magistrate speaks to you
  • call the magistrate ‘Your Honour’
  • do not interrupt the magistrate when they talk; the magistrate will ask for more information if they need it
  • speak clearly and loudly
  • look at the magistrate when you speak (if you have notes you can read from your notes and look up and down).

More information

Serious criminal charges

Preparing to plead not guilty

Pleading guilty

Writing a character reference

Representing yourself in a criminal case

Asking for a rehearing

Appealing a Magistrates' Court decision

Possible outcomes for criminal offences

Get help

Find out how you can get help with going to court for a criminal offence.