All criminal charges, from drink driving through to murder, originate in the Magistrates Court. The Magistrates Court has the power to deal with a large number of matters whether a person is pleading guilty or not guilty. However, serious matters which can’t be dealt with in the Magistrates Court need to proceed to either the District Court or Supreme Court. That does not mean that the Magistrates Court has no function in such matters – in fact, it still has a very important function, known as a committal hearing.
The main purposes of a committal hearing are to firstly operate as a ‘filter’ and ensure that charges for which there is insufficient evidence for a conviction are dismissed and secondly to provide both the defence and prosecution the opportunity to explore and clarify evidence in order to narrow issues in dispute or expose strengths and weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.
Like a strong, solid foundation is important to the construction of a house a committal hearing is a very important step in court proceedings because it is often laying the ‘groundwork’ for how the proceedings are conducted, what evidence may be led and what can be made of that evidence in the District or Supreme Court.
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