If you choose to represent yourself and you are pleading guilty, the following information explains:
- what you need to do before you get to court
- what to expect when you get to court, and what you need to do
- what might happen at court.
Before you go to court for a criminal charge, you should get legal advice.
Find out about the police case
Before you go to court, find out what the police and other witnesses say you did.
This information is set out in the preliminary brief or full brief which is prepared by the person who charged you (the informant). Their name and contact details will be on the charge sheet or notice to appear.
A notice to appear is a document telling you to go to court on a certain date because the police suspect you have broken the law.
If you were given a notice to appear, you should get a charge sheet and preliminary brief from the police within 21 days from receiving the notice. This will have a summary of what the police and witnesses say happened. If you want the full brief you can ask the informant in writing.
You might get a copy of the full brief with the charges if you get a:
- charge and summons
- bail notice.
If not, write to the officer-in-charge at the informant’s station at least 14 days before the first court date and ask for a copy of the full brief.
Read the brief to see if you agree with what the police and witnesses say happened.
If you have a lawyer, they can ask for the preliminary brief or full brief on your behalf to help prepare your case.
If you disagree with the police
You can call the informant before the court date to talk about the summary and the charges, especially if you want any changes made.
If the police will not make any changes, such as withdrawing charges or changing the summary, you have to decide whether you want to:
You should get legal advice before deciding what to do.
What to organise before going to court
Before you go to court it can help to organise:
- character references from your employer, family or people who know you well
- reports from doctors or counsellors you have seen
- certificates or awards for work, courses or other things you have done
- a receipt, if you had to pay for any damages you caused
- details of your financial situation, in case you get a fine.
You can give these to the magistrate hearing your case. It can take people time to prepare these for you, so give them as much time as you can.
Character references and witnesses
A character reference is a letter from someone who knows about you going to court, and can write about your background and achievements, why you offended and your response to the charge.
If you want a character witness to speak about you in court, such as a support worker or your employer, make sure they can come on the hearing day and know where to go.
Let the court know if you or any of your witnesses need an interpreter, at least a week before court.
What to do on the day of the hearing
On the day you go to court:
- dress well – wear something neat and tidy, like you would wear to a job interview
- be on time – be at court at least 30 minutes before the time on your notice to appear or summons
- be prepared to wait – court may take all day
- arrange childcare, or for someone to collect your children after school
- take what you need – bring your references, reports and other materials you have prepared relevant to the charges.
Do not drive if your licence might be suspended or cancelled.
When you are at court
Tell the court you are there
When you get there, report to the court coordinator at the counter and ask what courtroom you are in.
Wait to be called
Sit in the court room or just outside. The clerk will call your name in court and over the loudspeaker when the magistrate is ready to hear your case.
In the courtroom
Showing respect helps. This includes your behaviour as well as how you speak. For example, before going into court you should take off your sunglasses and hat, and turn off your mobile phone. When you enter or leave the court room, nod to the magistrate.
While you are in court do not:
- talk with anyone else in the courtroom
- smoke, eat or chew gum
- listen to music, even with headphones
- read the newspaper
- use your mobile phone.
What to say in your guilty plea
There is no magic formula. Tell the magistrate anything you want them to consider when deciding your penalty.
You can also give the magistrate any documents that you have with you for them to look at. You must show these documents to the prosecutor first.
You might like to tell the magistrate about:
- the people who are supporting you at court, so the magistrate can ask them any questions
- the circumstances of the offence, such as how and why it happened. Explain your actions, do not excuse them
- anything you have done to make up for the offence or accept responsibility for it, for example you:
- paid for damage caused
- were co-operative with police
- apologised to the victim.
- what lessons you have learnt and how you feel about what you did
- what you are doing to stop the behaviour happening again, for example, if you:
- are sorting out any drug or alcohol problems
- are seeing a counsellor/social worker
- sold your car.
- your personal circumstances, relevant to the charge and penalty:
- how old you are
- your family situation
- if you are working or studying
- any personal problems or difficulties you have that may explain your situation.
- your financial situation, including your income and major (not every day) expenses:
- rent or mortgage
- car or other large loans.
- why you need your licence (if it is a driving offence), for example:
- to use as part of your work
- for children.
- why you do not want a conviction recorded and how it may affect you in the future, such as for:
- overseas travel.
Find out what happens in court
You can visit court to watch other cases. Court volunteers can give you information and support at court.
You can also do a virtual tour of the Magistrates’ .
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 06 June 2022