Magistrates' Court

This service description provides information regarding the Victorian Magistrates' Court.

Introduction

The Magistrates' Court is the lowest level of the Victorian court hierarchy in terms of jurisdiction. It incorporates:

  • Children's Court of Victoria
  • Coroner's Court of Victoria
  • Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal
  • Koori Court
  • Drug Court
  • Family Violence Division
  • Industrial Division
  • Assessment and Referral Court List
  • Neighbourhood Justice Division
  • PERIN Court (Penalty Enforcement by Registration of Infringement Notices).

The Magistrates' Court deals with the majority of the criminal and civil matters that proceed to court.  See Magistrates' Court of Victoria website.

Criminal jurisdiction

The Magistrates' Court hears and determines all summary offences and many indictable offences.

Summary offences: are those offences created by legislation that are generally considered to be of a less serious nature and are heard in the Magistrates' Court. For example, drunk and disorderly, traffic offences, willful damage and resisting arrest.

Indictable offences: are more serious offences which may be heard by a judge and jury in the County Court or the Supreme Court.

Indictable offences triable summarily

This refers to indictable offences that may be heard by the Magistrates' Court at the request of the prosecution and with the consent of the defendant.

More serious indictable offences not triable summarily, such as rape and murder, must be heard in the County Court or the Supreme Court by a judge and jury.

Committal hearings

Before more serious indictable offences proceed to higher courts, the magistrate conducts committal proceedings to establish whether there is sufficient evidence to support a conviction. Committal hearings determine the strength of the evidence in a case prior to it proceeding before a judge and jury in a higher court.

Civil jurisdiction

The Magistrates' Court is able to determine civil disputes with a monetary limit of $100,000 including personal injury claims.

Civil disputes include:

  • contractual disputes
  • negligence claims
  • claims for repairs or injuries arising from motor vehicle accidents
  • land and neighbourhood disputes.

Other matters within the jurisdiction of the court

  • certain family law matters, including some matters relating to children and property
  • crimes involving family violence, in applications for intervention orders
  • claims for compensation in respect of workplace injuries.

Coroners Court

The Governor in Council appoints the State Coroner under the Coroners Act 2008. See service description Victorian Coroners Court and procedure Death of a current or former client for tasks that must be undertaken.

The Coroners Court has jurisdiction:

  • to investigate reportable deaths and fires
  • to make recommendations relating to public health and safety or the administration of justice to reduce the number of preventable deaths and fires.

Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT)

The Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) provides financial assistance to victims of crime committed in Victoria. The tribunal operates from every venue of the Magistrates' Court. Victims include:

  • primary victims. including persons against whom a violent crime has been committed
  • secondary victims, including witnesses to a violent crime
  • related victims, including dependants of a person who has died as a result of a violent crime.

Applications to the tribunal must be made in writing within two years of the occurrence of the violent crime. See service description Services for victims of crime (including VOCAT).

The PERIN Court

Unpaid traffic, parking and other ‘on the spot’ fines are dealt with under the Penalty Enforcement by Registration of Infringement Notice (PERIN) system, established under the Magistrates’ Court Act.

There is also a system in place for juveniles called the Children and Young Persons Infringement Notice System (CAYPINS).

CAYPINS enables the Children's Court to deal with any unpaid infringement penalties in respect of children. It allows the Children’s Court to use discretion and flexibility when dealing with a child's unpaid infringement penalties (which may take into account the child’s personal circumstances such as age and ability to pay the fine). For further information go to Infringements and Fines.

Considerations for good practice

If a child protection practitioner has been subpoenaed to attend the Magistrates’ Court, the practitioner may contact the department’s Legal ServicesBranch for assistance. A practitioner may be subpoenaed if, for example, Victoria Police has undertaken a criminal investigation and is prosecuting a parent for failing to protect a child from harm.

There may be media interest in such matters, see advice Publication of identifying details.

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