Victorian Courts

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The Victorian Criminal Court System

The Victorian criminal court system has a hierarchy which determines which types of cases can be heard in each court. If you are required to attend court for a criminal offence, please contact our defence experts at Sher Criminal Lawyers immediately for specialist legal advice and representation.

The Criminal Court System in Victoria

In Victoria, there are three courts which hear criminal matters:

  1. The Magistrates’ Court of Victoria
  2. The County Court of Victoria
  3. The Supreme Court of Victoria

Similarly, criminal offences can be divided into three categories:

  1. Summary Offences
  2. Indictable Offences Triable Summarily
  3. Indictable Offences

Summary offences are considered less serious than indictable offences and can carry a maximum penalty of up to 2 years imprisonment and a fine not exceeding 240 penalty units for a single charge. Indictable offences are considered serious and carry a maximum penalty of more than 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine greater than 240 penalty units for a single charge.

The Magistrates’ Court hears and determines matters relating to summary offence and indictable offences triable summarily. The County Court hears and determines the majority of indictable offences. The Supreme Court hears and determines only the most serious indictable offences including murder, manslaughter and treason.

The Victorian criminal court system has a hierarchy which determines which types of cases can be heard in each court depending on the seriousness of the offence. Another level may be added to the hierarchy if you consider that only the High Court of Australia can hear an appeal from the Supreme Court of Victoria.

The Magistrates’ Court of Victoria

The Magistrates’ Court is known as the summary jurisdiction because it handles less serious crimes. All criminal cases in Victoria are commenced in the Magistrates’ Court, but:

  • Only ‘summary offences’ and ‘indictable offences triable summarily’ can be heard and finalised in the Magistrates’ Court;
  • ‘Indictable offences’ only proceed through the committal stream in the Magistrates’ Court before being sent to the County or Supreme Court for trial and finalisation.

Matters heard summarily in the Magistrates Court are determined by a single Judicial Officer called a Magistrate. Depending on whether the accused pleads guilty or not guilty, summary matters may involve several complex stages of legal procedure, including:

  1. Filing of Charges
  2. First Mention Hearing
  3. Summary Case Conference
  4. Contest Mention
  5. Contested Hearing

The Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) restricts the maximum penalty that the Magistrates’ Court can impose in any criminal matter:

  • 2 years’ imprisonment for a single offence;
  • 5 years’ imprisonment for multiple offences; and/or
  • A fine not exceeding 500 penalty units for individuals convicted of an indictable offence tried summarily;
  • A fine not exceeding 2,500 penalty units for corporations convicted of an indictable offence tried summarily.

As mentioned above, indictable offence matters are also commenced in the Magistrates’ Court through a process known as the ‘committal stream’. During committal proceedings, the Magistrates’ Court considers whether there is enough evidence against the accused to order them to face trial in either the County or Supreme Court for an indictable offence. Please see ‘Committal Stream’ for more information.

The Magistrates’ Court sits in 52 locations across Melbourne and regional Victoria. If you would like further information about the Magistrates’ Court, please see ‘Magistrates’ Court’, ‘Jurisdiction of the Magistrates’ Court’ or ‘Magistrates’ Court Procedure.

The County Court of Victoria

The County Court hears and determines all indictable offence matters except murder, manslaughter, treason and indictable crimes destined to be trialled summarily in the Magistrates’ Court.

Before an indictable matter can be trialled in the County Court, it must first proceed through committal proceedings in the Magistrates’ Court. Please see ‘Committal Stream’ for more information.

Criminal matters in the County Court are heard and finalised by trial. That is, a jury delivers a verdict based on the evidence presented in court and the Judge imposes the appropriate penalty if the accused is found guilty. As such, depending on whether the accused pleads guilty or not guilty, indictable matters may involve several complex stages of legal procedure, including:

  1. Committal Proceedings
  2. Plea Hearing
  3. Pre-trial Disclosure
  4. Directions Hearing
  5. Arraignment
  6. Trial
  7. Sentencing Hearing

When determining the appropriate sentence for an indictable offence, the County Court interprets sentencing laws and relevant criminal legislation. The most serious indictable offences in Victoria carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The County Court sits in 12 locations across Melbourne and regional Victoria. If you would like further information about the County Court, please see ‘County Court’ or ‘County Court and Supreme Court Procedure’.

The Supreme Court of Victoria

The Supreme Court hears the most serious indictable offence matters including murder, manslaughter and treason. Only the High Court of Australia can review the Supreme Court’s decisions.

The Supreme Court may also hear other major indictable offence matters under certain circumstances. The prosecution (called the Crown) may choose to prosecute an indictable offence in the Supreme Court if the matter is serious enough. However, the Justice reserves the right to not hear the matter and send it back to the County Court should they so choose.

Before an indictable matter can be trialled in the Supreme Court, it must first proceed through committal proceedings in the Magistrates’ Court. Please see ‘Committal Stream’ for more information.

Criminal matters in the Supreme Court are heard and finalised by trial. That is, a jury delivers a verdict based on the evidence presented in court and the Judge (called a Justice) imposes the appropriate penalty if the accused is found guilty. As such, depending on whether the accused pleads guilty or not guilty, indictable matters may involve several complex stages of legal procedure, including:

  1. Committal Proceedings
  2. Plea Hearing
  3. Pre-trial Disclosure
  4. Directions Hearing
  5. Arraignment
  6. Trial
  7. Sentencing Hearing

When determining the appropriate sentence for an indictable offence, the Supreme Court interprets sentencing laws and relevant criminal legislation. The most serious indictable offences in Victoria carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The Supreme Court hears cases in a number of different buildings in the Melbourne CBD and 12 locations across regional Victoria. If you would like further information about the Supreme Court, please see ‘Supreme Court’ or ‘County Court and Supreme Court Procedure’.

What to Do Before Attending Court

If you have been charged with a criminal offence, please contact Sher Criminal Lawyers immediately. Our expert defence team is here to help you secure the best possible outcome in your matter by applying our specialist knowledge of the criminal law and the Victorian justice system. We are available 24/7 and offer free consultations by way of Zoom, Facetime or in person at our Melbourne and Moorabbin offices.

Charged with a Criminal Offence or Under Investigation?

We are available 24/7 and here to help. Contact us now to book a consultation or receive immediate advice. A quick chat will help you to understand your situation, protect your legal interests and secure a positive outcome from the outset of your matter.

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