Criminal Lawyers SydneyLocal Court in NSW

Local Court in NSW

The Local Court has criminal and civil jurisdictions. In its criminal jurisdiction it deals with the majority of criminal and summary prosecutions in New South Wales. The Local Court also conducts committal proceedings to determine whether or not indictable offences are to be committed to the District or Supreme Courts.

The Local Court also determines other applications such as Apprehended Violence Orders and appeals relating to driver’s licences. There are a range of diversion programs available to Local Court Magistrates. Some are available in all Local Courts. Some are available in a very limited number of Local Court locations.

Diversion programs

In some circumstances, people facing criminal charges in court may be referred to a rehabilitation, treatment or intervention program that is intended to address underlying problems, such as:

  • drug or alcohol dependency
  • mental illness
  • homelessness
  • extreme poverty

The magistrate or judicial officer will adjourn the case while a defendant participates in the diversion program. Other court programs provide an alternative forum for hearing a case or negotiating an outcome.

Courts with Integrated Treatment Programs

Drug Court

This specialist court offers special programs to reduce reoffending by adults who are dependent on drugs. The Drug Court of NSW is a specialist court that sits in Parramatta, Toronto and Sydney in NSW, Australia. It takes referrals from the Local and District Courts of offenders who are dependent on drugs and who are eligible for a Drug Court program. Eligibility covers a number of criteria, including where you reside and which Court is hearing your matter. The detailed eligibility requirements are here.

Visit the Drug Court website for more information.

Local Court Diversion Programs

A number of treatment and intervention referral programs are offered at the Local Court. This is a summary of the diversion programs in the Local Court.

Local Court Referral of Eligible Defendants into Treatment (CREDIT)

The CREDIT program targets adult defendants at the Local Court who want to address underlying issues related to their offending behaviour. Those identified as at risk of re-offending undergo case management and are referred to educational, training, treatment or social welfare services. CREDIT operates at Burwood Local Court and Tamworth Local Court. Find out more about CREDIT in the CREDIT pamphlet [PDF 1.4MB].

Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment (MERIT )

The MERIT program is available in the Local Court to give adult defendants with drug and/or alcohol problems the opportunity to undertake a voluntary rehabilitation program as part of the bail process.

People can nominate themselves for assessment by the MERIT program, or can be identified by the magistrate, their lawyer, or by police, as suitable for assessment for the MERIT program. Visit the MERIT website for more information.

Traffic Offender Intervention Program

This program, run by the NSW Department of Roads and Maritime Services, targets offenders who have pleaded guilty or been found guilty of traffic offences in the Local Court.

The Traffic Offender Intervention program is a community-based, road safety education program. It provides offenders with the information and skills necessary to develop positive attitudes towards driving and become safer drivers. Find out more about TOIPs.

Domestic Violence Court Intervention Model (DVCIM)

The DVCIM program operates at Wagga Wagga Local Court and Campbelltown Local Court and is an integrated criminal justice and community social welfare response to domestic violence. Where the matter is appropriate for prosecution, DVCIM provide witness preparation and ensures victim safety and support is addressed.

For more information, see the booklet Your court, your safety: a guide to going to court to get help with domestic violence [PDF 322kb].

Other Local Court Sentencing Options

Circle Sentencing

Circle Sentencing is an alternative sentencing court for adult Aboriginal offenders. It directly involves local Aboriginal people in the process of sentencing offenders, with the aims of making it more meaningful and improving confidence in the criminal justice system.

It is a process whereby a “Circle Court” is convened. The attendees sit in a circle, in a setting which is far more informal than appearing in a traditional Court. Proceedings are generally conducted in private (as compared with most Court hearings, which are open to the public). There are 4 elders from the Aboriginal community, the project officer (basically the convener/organiser/facilitator), the Magistrate, the police prosecutor, the offender, the offender’s legal representative, the victim and possibly a few other people. Both the victim and the offender are given an opportunity to put forward their views, as are all participants. Shaming is part of the process, although the shaming is focused on the action perpetrated by the offender. The elders discuss, deliberate, and ultimately make a sentencing proposal, to which the offender must agree. Actual sentencing occurs at a later date, in Court.

Circle Sentencing is currently available in many regional towns, as well as Blacktown and Mount Druitt in the greater Sydney metropolitan area. Find more information about Circle Sentencing on the Judicial Commission website.

Forum Sentencing

Forum Sentencing brings together an offender, the victim and other people affected by the crime. Forum Sentencing operates at selected NSW Local Courts (currently some 47 Courts) and will be extended across the state over the next few years.

It can take a lot of courage for an offender to face the people they have harmed. Similarly, it can be challenging for a victim to face the person who caused them and those around them harm. Forum Sentencing allows both parties to:

  • see each other as human beings;
  • gain a deeper understanding of what happened and the impact it had on others; and
  • work together to find resolutions to repair the harm and help the offender get their life back on track.

To be eligible you must be an adult offender who has pleaded guilty or been found guilty of a suitable offence. A sentence of a good behaviour bond, community service work or a term of imprisonment must be the likely possible outcomes for the offence.Some offences commonly referred to Forum Sentencing include:

  • Common assault
  • Break and enter
  • Malicious damage
  • Domestic violence (non-intimate relationships only)
  • Theft (shoplifting, possess stolen property, steal from employer)
  • Fraud

Not all offence types are eligible for referral to Forum Sentencing. Certain serious offences or serious prior offences would make an offender ineligible for the Forum Sentencing program, such as; sexual assault, murder, stalking, firearms offences, drug supply, and some domestic violence offences. Once a matter is referred to forum sentencing, a conference is arranged. Conference participants will include:

  • You and people to support you, such as friends and family
  • The victim or victim representative and people who are there to support them
  • The investigating police
  • A conference facilitator
  • Others affected by the offence, such as witnesses and other relevant community members

A Draft Intervention Plan will be formulated at the conference. This is an agreed plan of tasks for the offender to complete as part of his or her sentence. Draft Intervention Plans need to:

  • Be fair and reasonable for you to complete
  • Effectively address the issues which led to your offending behaviour
  • Include set and realistic timeframes
  • Be in writing and signed by you and the victim

The offender and the other conference participants decide what tasks should go in the Draft Intervention Plan. The Draft Intervention Plan can only be finalised once the offender and the victim agree on the tasks in the plan.

The matter will then be returned to Court where the Magistrate can accept or reject the Draft Intervention Plan, or make changes to it. The Intervention Plan, once accepted, is effectively the sentence. Visit the Forum Sentencing website for more information. If you have a matter in the Local Court, call us for advice and representation Criminal Lawyers Sydney(02) 9533 2269.

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