Category of offences

In SA the main sources of criminal offences are contained within the Criminal Law Consolidation Ac ( eg. assaults, murder, rape etc), the Summary Offences Act (Disorderly behaviour, resisting arrest and other behavioural offences etc) and  the Road Traffic Act (Due Care, Drink driving etc.) and the Controlled Substances Act for drug related offences.

People can also be charged with offences against a variety of other laws such as the Motor Vehicles Act (for offences such as driving an unregistered motor vehicle or under disqualification) Fisheries Act, Liquor Licensing Act and council by-laws. For offences against by-laws such as parking infringements, you will need to contact the issuing council for a copy of its by-laws.

In SA, criminal offences are dealt with in one of three courts. The Supreme Court is usually an appellant court in that it deals with appeals from the District or Magistrates Court however it does hear trials for the most serious criminal offences, such as murder.

The District Court handles the balance of serious criminal offences such as manslaughter, sexual offences and serious drug trafficking.

Magistrates Courts deal with relatively minor offences such as drink driving, other traffic offences, some assaults and minor drug matters.   In minor, undisputed traffic matters a Justice of the Peace may preside.

Some offences can be dealt with either in a Magistrate’s Court or the District Court.

Serious matters can only be finalised in the District/Supreme Court but all matters start out in the Magistrates Court. The Magistrates court has a ‘committal’ role.  This process is to ensure that all of the elements of the offence are made out before being ‘sent up’ to the Superior Court.  The committal process is usually performed by the prosecution lodging all the necessary statements and other evidence they will rely on to prove the charge(s).  It is rare for witnesses to give evidence at this level.

A Supreme or District Court is presided over by a judge. If the matter goes on to trial in either of those courts the decision as to whether the person is guilty or not guilty will generally be made by a jury of 12 ordinary people.  The judge will decide the sentence to be imposed if there is a guilty verdict.

A defendant can nominate to have the trial decided upon by judge alone.

In a Magistrate’s Court if the matter goes to trial it is the Magistrate alone who will decide whether a person is guilty or not.

In South Australia all magistrates and Judges should be addressed as “Your Honour” Some other states (as often depicted on television) refer to them as “Your Worship