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Report of a Court Visit

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  • Pages: 11
  • Word count: 2652
  • Category: Jury Law

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I will briefly describe role and function of the Federal, State Court System and including Community Justice Centres and including Legal Aid. I will report my visiting at the Downing Centre Local Court and seeking the information about summons or attendance notice by speaking one of the court officers. I will present some nature of the matters as my observing court proceeding. I also provide a concise comments and soico-legal intervention from my personal point of view.

Describe the courts and the relevant jurisdiction

Courts are various in Australia; I will briefly describe Federal and State Court System.

The High Court is the highest court in the Australian judicial system. The seat of the High Court is in Parliamentary Triangle, Canberra. The functions of the High Court are to interpret and apply the law of Australia; to decide cases of special leave from Federal, State and Territory courts. Including challenges to the constitutional validity of the laws and to hear appeals. In addition, there are offices of the High Court Registry in Sydney, staffed by offices of the High Court. (High Court website)

There are three levels in the general court hierarchy in New South Wales. It is the Supreme Court, District Courts and Local Courts. (Law link website)

The highest court in the State is Supreme Court of the NSW. It has unlimited civil jurisdiction and handles the most serious criminal matters. The Court of Appeal and Court of Criminal Appeal hear appeals from decision made in most of the Courts of NSW and from decisions made by a single judge of Supreme Court.

The District Court is the intermediate Court in NSW and has jurisdiction to hear: all indictable criminal offences (except murder, treason and piracy); and civil matters with a monetary vale up to $750,000, or greater with the consent of the parties. The Court also has an unlimited jurisdiction in respect of motor accident cases. The Court can also deal with applications under the De facto Relationships Act 1984, and the Family Provision Act1982, that involve property wroth not more than $250,000. The Court’s judges hear appeals from the Local Court and also preside over a range of administrative and disciplinary tribunals. (Law link website)

The Local Courts are the courts of general access in NSW and have jurisdiction to deal with: criminal matter which can be decided without a jury and committal hearing; juvenile prosecutions and care matters; motor traffic prosecution; civil actions to recover amount up to a certain value ($40,000); some family law issues and coronal inquiries.

In the Local Court, Magistrates hear criminal cases, which do not need a judge and jury. These are called summary offences and include traffic matters, minor stealing offensive behaviour, and some types of assault. Magistrates conduct committal proceedings to decide if there is enough evidence for serious matter, such as armed robbery, to go before the District Court. Magistrates also hear applications for apprehended violence order where one person is seeking a restraining order against another. (Law link website)

Community Justice Centres resolve disputes through mediation, free of charge to members of the public. There are six centres through the State, providing an informal and impartial dispute resolution service to all sections of the community and Government agencies. The types of matters deal with by community Justices including family disputes and youth conflict, workplace grievances, neighbourhood and community disputes. (Law link website)

The Legal Aid Commission of NSW provides free legal advice to anyone on most matters. If someone has to go to Local Court, a duty lawyer will represent the person if he/she is eligible for legal aid. To contact legal Aid to make an appointment or call LawAccess asking for further information. (Law link

Attending a half-day court visit

I attended the Downing Centre Local Court one of the Friday mornings with some other social work students. The Local Court is located at 143-147 Liverpool Street, Sydney. It deals with a range of matters including criminal charges, traffic matters, general applications, civil claims, apprehended violence application and family law. Level 4 of Downing Centre hear to criminal and general cases and level 5 hear to civil claims only.

After passing security check up, I entered the building. A list indicating these matters and all other matters was displayed in the ground floor foyer. It was very hard to understand the means of those names and shorthand. Finally, I found the cases’ number and courtrooms, which I interested in it. A lady who worked at Information Desk advised us go to visit level 4 and than level 5. Apprehended Violence Applications and Family Law matters are listed on Wednesdays, there are some support workers will be working with women in a special room very Wednesdays. There are clear notices on that door.

I was fortunate to be able to speak with one of the court offices about how to answer the summons or attendance notice between the Court break. He pointed out that the court attendance notice requires ” you to attend Court to answer a charge that you have committed an offence against the law. If you do nothing, the court case may be heard without you or warrant may be issued for your arrest”. He told me that what means by saying “guilty or not guilty”. To do this, ” you can go to the Court on the day on your own or with your solicitor or you can tell the Court your plea in writing. The completed Written Notice of Pleading must be received by the Court at least 5 days before the court hearing date written on the attendance notice.”

He was continuing to explain that for me as following: “If you plead guilty, the police facts sheet will be read to the court. The Magistrate may also statements from any witnesses, your handwritten statement or record of interview and copy of your criminal record if you have one. Your lawyer will give an explanation about how and why the offence happened and some information about your current financial situation, personal circumstances and general character. The Magistrate will then consider the penalty. Penalties can be various, range from dismissal without conviction through to conviction with a fine, good behaviour bond, community service order, periodic detention, home detention or full time gaol. Once the Magistrate has decided on the penalty in you case, make sure you understand what it is. If you don’t have a lawyer, ask the Magistrate or court staff to explain it for you.

If you receive a fine, there will be pay in 28 days. If you cannot pay within the set time, go and speak to the court staff before you go. Before you leave the court, find out whether you have to sign any documents such as a good behaviour bond, community service order and so on and do this before you leave.” Indeed, he said “On the day, if you tell the Magistrate that you are pleading not guilty, you case will be given a date for hearing. Usually is 4 weeks from first hearing.”

Present the nature of the matters being dealt with and positions role of those involved with the presentation of evidence during the proceedings

The layout and rules within the court portrayed strict hierarchical order. When I was walking in or out of the courtroom I must bow to the Magistrate, and address him or her as ‘your Honour’ or ‘your Worship’. Layers sit in front of their respective clients, and he/she is able to address the Magistrate. Court Reporter operates the recorder and records the proceeding for court files and Court Office calls people into court by their name and cases’ numbers. The police prosecutor represents the police in criminal matters. Witnesses will give their version of the events, which caused the case to be brought to court. Most cases heard in the Local Court are open to the public; I sit in the public seat.


Miss X, she is about twenty years old and charges from stealing public property such as stealing the money from the public phones, cameras from shop’s window and other people personal belongings from the public places and homes. She lives on selling the goods which from stolen others. She came from a broken family had custody, also had a drug abuse when she was 13. The most of her money was supplied for Heroine addict. The charges for her is 12- month sentences, 6- month community service order and $200 fine. Her lawyer omitted her employment history and welfare state.

Provided a concise analysis of all proceeding in relation to possible soico- legal intervention

She was the first offender, she pleaded guilty. She was crying, shivering at court hearing and seemed she would like to have some change in her life. However, she knew how hard to break the bad life chain. She looked her male friend (may be a boyfriend) when she replied questions that the Magistrate asked her most of the time. My impression of that kind of the body language means she is seeking help and really need shelter. To doing this, her may be having a limitation to seek helping resources.

If I am a social worker with this client, I will look at her personal attachment and investigate relevant events around facts. In this point, I may explore further possibilities that could be arranged by utilising family resources. For instance, her mother or her sister they may give an emotional support and a place for her to live, that will be a good opportunity to leave her pervious environment to change her behaviour. Further support can be found through community resources, like youth support group, community health centre, and establish a service plan for her 6-month community service order. I will highly recommend she should have exercised case manager, especially in 6-month community service order.

Matter 2

Mr. Y is young man charge from travel on no tickets for many years. This time he was changed for punching a tickets’ officer at Liverpool station and made this railway staff had a fractured on his face and have to stay in hospital for a month. He had one penalty of community service order just finished 3 weeks ago. His lawyer said he diagnosed a challenging behaviour when his 12 and his had drug abuse. Mr. Y said this tickets officer fell down the floor by himself he plead not guilty so the Magistrate will be given a date for hearing.

Provided a concise analysis of all proceeding in relation to possible soico- legal intervention

Mr.Y was not a first offender; his lawyer did not mention any information about how he went through his pervious penalty such as ‘good behaviour bond’. In hearing, he tried to leave the courtroom more one time and court office has to bring him back. At foyer during break time, I saw he was no responded when his lawyer talking to him about his case, and his lawyer had to hold him down. He just wanted to leave. (The court did not close yet). He seems having a problem to understand the court procedure in some degrees.

I found this man is ill. The questions cross my mend quickly, “Is there any social worker intervention after he got first penalty? What kind of the health condition dose this young man has now? Dose he have any review after he diagnosed as a challenging behaviour scenic he was 12? Who he lives with?”

If I am a social worker with this client, the first step I will review his case and referral him to visit a mental clinic and to see a group of specialist such as psychiatrist, pathology and dietician. After I do some investigate, I will work with other health professional make a service plan for Mr. Y. It is approaches that considers the whole person, looks at the person’s environment and lifestyle, and find what kind support needs in order to reach his potential and life goals, reduce the risk to community. (The Positive Approach to Challenging Behaviour, 1997, p, 7)

Matter 3

Mrs. Lebanese, she wearing a long black dress and cardigan with a white scarf over her head, came to court with her 12-year-old son. Her son will do the interpreter to his mother. The Magistrate looked at her case just told her, “you should come back on the next hearing and make sure bring your solicitor with you.”

Provided a concise analysis of all proceeding in relation to possible soico- legal intervention

I saw her sit at outside courtroom when I entered foyer and sit in the some courtroom with her hearing. I found she was still waiting, event her case was already closed half hour ago until the court office said to her come back in 4 weeks and bring her lawyer with her and not her son. I wonder dose this woman understand why she should come bake in 4 weeks time, why so important for her needs seeking legal aid. During my half-day court visit, I did not see any social worker appeals the courtroom for her. The Court did not arrange any interpreter for NESB people and none of a duty lawyer visits this woman.

I understand if people have poor English language skills and not familia with the court proceeding are more disadvantage for them to defend themselves. I notice legal aid budget cuts by Howard government, the study shows many case without representation fare which were worse in cases and many clients were denied assistance by legal aid due to the costs, I believed that the Lebanese woman just was one of victims for reduce the legal access.

If I am a social worker with this client, I will make an interview this woman with official interpreter, and check up her finance. If she was eligible to have the Legal Aid access, I will contact the Commission and arrange an interpreting service for her going to the Commission. If she criteria unmet, I will ask her think about private lawyer. I will get the court papers ready before hearing day, if she wishes me does it.


In my report, I demonstrated the Australia legal systems and there are three levels of jurisdiction in the New South Wales. As a social worker may involve legal aid or family support and deal with court proceeding in many ways. I believe that Social worker should be mindful all proceeding in relation of soico-legal intervention. It is social worker’s role to provide a quality of the service, identify the legal issues of your clients and support people in equality. A social worker can also provide support by simplifying the language and procedures of the court context. It is a big challenge for social worker practices in socio-legal area.


Ageing Disability Department (1997), The Positive Approach to Challenging Behaviour, Sydney, NSW

Bartley, R. (2000), A guide to the Local Court, 5th ed. Redfern Legal Centre, Redfern

Swain, P. (ED) (2000) In the Shadow of the Law- Legal Context of Social Work Practice, Second Edition Federation Press; Annandale

Thompson J, (1989), Social Worker and Law: A practical guide to court and report, Redfern Legal Centre, Redfern

Web Document

Going to court: a handy guide to the Local Court for defendants, 10/09/2003

Web Document

Jason Nichols, The human toll of legal aid cuts in Australia, 6/11/1998

Web Document

High Court of Australia, 10/09/2003

Web Document

About the Supreme Court of New South Wales, 8/9/2003

About the Local Courts of New South Wales, 8/9/2003

About the District Court of New South Wales,8/9/2003

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