Contesting criminal charges and preparing for a criminal trial is a stressful and overwhelming experience for an accused person. This article hopes to outline what you can expect when preparing to go to trial.

What happens before a trial?

If you are planning to plead not guilty, there are several stages that will occur before a trial is set. Firstly, there will be a committal hearing. At committal, a Magistrate will listen to the evidence and decide if there is sufficient evidence for the defendant to be tried in either the County or Supreme Court. If the Magistrate decides that there is sufficient evidence, then the defendant will be committed for trial. Alternatively, the Magistrate may decide that there is not enough evidence and discharge the defendant.

If the defendant is committed to trial, there will be several directions hearing held with the court prior to the trial commencement date. This is where issues of evidence may be raised, and additional evidence produced.

What happens at trial?

The trial is the final stage of a court proceeding.  trial this will occur in either the County/District or Supreme Court, depending on the seriousness of the offence and the jurisdiction. When a matter is sent to the Supreme or County/District Court, an indictment must be prepared. An indictment is the document that brings criminal matters to the Supreme or County/District Court. It is the responsibility of the CDPP to prepare the indictment, which lists all the offences the defendant has been charged with. Once the defendant is committed for trial they are referred to as the defendant. During a trial the prosecution calls witnesses to support their case. Other forms of evidence may also be produced. The defendant can elect whether to give or call evidence. The onus of proof is on the prosecution; the defence does not have to prove that the defendant is innocent. When all the evidence has been given, the judge sums up both sides of the argument for the jury and directs it to decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The jury then leaves the courtroom to make its decision. The decision must be unanimous in the Commonwealth trials. To convict the defendant all the jury must be satisfied that the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. If there is any reasonable doubt in the jury’s mind, the defendant must be acquitted. If found not guilty, the defendant is discharged. If the defendant is found guilty, the judge will deliver the sentence. Again, this may happen at a later stage.

At the onset of the trial, the parties will start with their openings. This is where the prosecution will first put to the jury what the case is against the accused and where the defence will foreshadow the defenses that they will be raising. At the trial, the Judge will not investigate the facts. It is for the parties to put forward evidence. The parties will choose what evidence to put forward in their case. Parties will then be able to cross-examine the evidence of the other party. At the end of the trial, the jury will decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. If they are found guilty, the Judge will determine the sentence.

It is common for defendants to change their plea, even during a trial. However, if a defendant decides to change their plea, they are abandoning their right to appeal. Expert legal advice is always needed before a change of plea is entered.

What happens after trial?


If found guilty, the court will impose a sentence or make an order that is of a severity appropriate in all of the circumstances of the offence. Sentences can include a term of imprisonment, home detention, conditional release, a fine, or orders such as a community service order. A person can also be ordered to make reparation to the Commonwealth or to a public authority under the Commonwealth or to any person in respect of loss suffered, or any expense incurred, by reason of the offence.


Defendants who are found guilty have the right to ask another court to review a decision by a lower court. A defendant may lodge an appeal against being found guilty and/or against the sentence if they consider the sentence or verdict was not in accordance with the law. Please read our article on Appealing Sentences here.

Important things to Consider if you are Preparing for a Trial

Going through a trial is extremely stressful. It is important to look after your mental and physical health during these periods. Support networks are needed. It is also important to contact your General Practitioner and keep them in the loop. They may recommend going on a mental health plan.

If you are preparing for a trial, it is important that you obtain representation from experienced and knowledgeable criminal lawyers, such as Galbally Parker. We have a team of legal experts with experience in a range of legal areas, including theft, sexual offences, murder and manslaughter, fraud and workplace crime.