Victoria Legal Aid

Serious criminal charges

What to do if you have been charged with a serious criminal offence, called indictable offences.

Serious criminal charges are called indictable offences. Offences include:

  • theft
  • drug trafficking
  • sexual offences
  • dangerous driving where a person is seriously injured as a result
  • murder.

If you have been charged with an indictable offence it will say this on the charge sheet in the ‘Details of the charge’ section.

Going to court

As indictable offences are serious, you may have to go before a judge and a jury in higher courts like the County Court and Supreme Court.

Some indictable offences are less serious and are triable summarily. This means a lower court like the Magistrates’ Court can hear them if you and the magistrate agree.

You must go to court

You must go to court each time your case is listed if the:

  • police have interviewed you
  • police have charged you with an indictable offence
  • court has given you a court date.

You must go if you are:

The court process can take a long time. It has a number of steps. This means you may have to come back to court several times until your case is finished.

Being charged with an indictable offence is serious. You could go to jail if you are found guilty.

A lawyer can:

  • answer questions about the indictable process
  • talk to you about your charges and the strength of your case
  • ask for you to make decisions
  • speak on your behalf to the court and to the prosecution.

Contact us to find out how we can help you. You may be able to get a lawyer to run your case.

Even if you want to plead guilty, legal advice is important – a well-prepared case could mean a lighter penalty. There are no duty lawyers at the County or Supreme courts. You will need to get legal advice before your court hearing.

Going to the Magistrates’ Court

Filing hearing

What is a filing hearing?

This is the first step at the Magistrates’ Court. At a filing hearing the magistrate will set out a timeline for when the prosecution must give you their brief of evidence. This is called the hand-up brief.

What is the hand-up brief?

You should get the hand-up brief 42 days before the committal mention. The hand-up brief has witness statements and your record of interview (what you said to police when you were interviewed by them). The witness statements may be from your witnesses or the prosecution’s. The hand-up brief will also tell you when you first come back to court. You can talk to your lawyer about what is in the brief.

Pleading guilty

If you admit that you broke the law, you may decide to plead guilty early on. The court treats a guilty plea as a sign that you are sorry and will give you a lighter penalty. You can plead guilty at any time.

Committal mention hearing

What is a committal mention hearing?

At this hearing the magistrate will want to know:

  • whether you are pleading guilty or not guilty
  • your answers to any other questions about the case.

A number of things could happen next. It depends on:

  • what you say about the charges
  • how the prosecution sees the case
  • how much more preparation your case needs.

You may need more time if you are not sure or if you are pleading not guilty. For example, you may need time to confirm legal aid funding or to negotiate with the prosecution.

The magistrate may put off the case to another committal mention or a committal case conference.

What if I am definitely pleading guilty?

If you are pleading guilty and your charges can be heard in the Magistrates’ Court, you can ask the magistrate to hear the case and decide a penalty. This may happen on the same day or another date. Even if you plead guilty the magistrate may say the charges are too serious and your plea hearing must be in the County Court or Supreme Court. Ask your lawyer.

See Plea hearing for more information.

What if I want to plead not guilty?

Depending on what you say about your charges and the evidence, you may ask the magistrate to list your case for a contested committal hearing in the Magistrates’ Court. The magistrate will want to know if you wish to question any of the prosecution’s witnesses. There are rules about who can be questioned and what they can be questioned about. If you do not want a committal, the magistrate may send your case straight to the County Court or Supreme Court to be listed for trial.

Contested committal hearing

What is a contested committal hearing?

At this hearing your lawyer will ask the witnesses questions.

This lets you know more about the prosecution’s case and the strength of the witnesses’ evidence. The magistrate will consider your case and decide if there is enough evidence for your case to go for a hearing before a jury.

If the magistrate decides there is enough evidence, you will be ‘committed for trial’. This means your case will be listed for a trial in the County or Supreme court.

Going to the County or Supreme court


This is the first step. You will be given an indictment, which is a document setting out the details of the offences the police have charged you with.

Pleading guilty

Plea hearing

If you have told the court you are pleading guilty, you will be given a date to go to court for a plea hearing. On that date the prosecution will read a statement of alleged facts. Your lawyer will explain how the offence happened and tell the judge about you and your situation. The prosecution and your lawyer will talk to the judge about a penalty. Witnesses may give evidence.

The judge may put off your case to think about the penalty. The judge might cancel your bail and put you in custody.

Pleading not guilty

Directions hearing or case conference

If you are pleading not guilty, the court will list your case for a directions hearing or case conference.

At the directions hearing (or other date) you may be arraigned. This is when the charges are formally read out to you in the courtroom and you are asked if you plead guilty or not guilty.

The judge can make different orders at the directions hearing including:

  • setting dates for documents to be filed (such as openings or defence responses)
  • setting a date for trial.

The aim of the directions hearings and case conferences is to:

  • explore whether the case can be resolved without a trial
  • reduce the number of issues you and the prosecution disagree on. For example, you may agree to plead guilty to a less serious charge or the prosecution might agree to say that things happened in a different way from what is set out in the brief.

You can also ask the judge to give a sentence indication in some cases. Speak to your lawyer about this.

If your case cannot be resolved, the judge will decide legal arguments, before a jury is chosen.

There will be a final directions hearing before the trial starts.


The trial is a hearing before a judge and jury. The prosecution presents its case against you. They do this by calling witnesses to give evidence. Then you can present your case in defence – this is your version of things. It may include calling witnesses or giving evidence yourself. The judge will tell the jury members about what their role is.

The jury will make a decision after the prosecution has presented their case and you have presented yours. The jury must decide if the prosecution has proven its case beyond reasonable doubt.

You may be found guilty of some or all charges, or not guilty of some or all charges.

Being found not guilty is called an acquittal.

What happens if I am found guilty?

If you are found guilty at the trial then the judge will hold a plea hearing.

What if I disagree with the judge and jury?

You may be able to lodge an appeal if you disagree with:

  • being found guilty
  • the penalty.

Get legal advice about an appeal and appeal bail. You have 28 days to do this. If you appeal you could end up with a higher penalty.

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.

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Reviewed 11 April 2022

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