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Magistrates Court versus the District Court

In South Australia there are 3 different types of Courts: the Magistrates Court, District Court and Supreme Court. Which Court a person will need to appear in, and where the matter finalises, will depend on the classification of the offence.

Criminal Offence Classifications

There are 3 classifications of Criminal Offences: Summary, Minor Indictable and Major Indictable.  The classification of the offence dictates the maximum penalty that can be imposed by a Magistrate or Judge. Judges in the District Court commonly hear more serious matters and thus impose heavier penalties than Magistrates.

The Magistrates Court has the power to hear Summary and Minor Indictable charges.  These vary from driving charges to assaults and “street crime” such as disorderly behaviour.

Major Indictable charges are more serious and cases include Sexual Offences, Drug and Firearm Offences. These charges go through a preliminary hearing process in the Magistrates Court to ensure that there is sufficient evidence to proceed with the case in the District or Supreme Court.

Major Indictable Charges

New provisions allow for some Major Indictable charges to be finalised in the Magistrates Court which limits the maximum penalty that can be imposed and results in quicker finalisation of the matter.

Once charged with a Criminal offence a person may choose to plead Guilty or Not Guilty to the offence and getting the right advice is essential before making that decision.  Getting the right advice may result in the charges being downgraded, withdrawn or dealt with more quickly.

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