Being at court for criminal charges is serious. You can get a criminal record and serious penalties, so get legal help as soon as possible. See how we can help. If your court date is more than six days away, you may qualify for help before your court date.
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 Other support for going to court.
Speaking to a lawyer at court
We have 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 how much you earn, your 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 the agency who is presenting evidence against you or the court.
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.
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. Read more about 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 (whether or not you are guilty of the charges).
Read more about Pleading 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).
- Serious criminal charges
- Pleading 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
Find out how you can get other support for going to court.
Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.
We help Victorians with their legal problems and represent those who need it most. Find legal answers, chat with us online, or call us. You can speak to us in English or ask for an interpreter. You can also find more legal information at www.legalaid.vic.gov.au
Reviewed 17 May 2022