The basic division in the structure of criminal courts is between the lower criminal courts – the local courts, Children’s court and Coroner’s court – and the higher criminal courts – the District Court and the Supreme Court. In observing proceedings at the Local, District and Supreme Courts over a period of three days a number of aspects of the criminal justice system were made apparent. The administration, processes and practices of the criminal trial are extremely varied dependent upon the level of criminal court being observed. The distinctions between the workings of the two courts revealed a number of the differences between summary proceedings and trial upon indictment. The cases observed served to provide evidence for the “two tiers of justice” argument. Also the role of the judiciary was perceived as being particularly interesting especially the high level of discretion that they held in the Local Courts and even to an extent in the District Court primarily when there was no jury present.
McBarnet’s discussion of the criminal court system focuses around the idea that the higher courts such as the District and the Supreme courts are for public consumption in which the ideology of justice is played up by the more elaborate court rooms, dress, and rigid rules of ceremony. On the other hand the lower courts focus on control. The local courts handle the vast bulk of cases with only a small proportion of criminal cases coming before the higher courts. For example the National division of cases between the lower and higher courts in 2003-2004 were 97% finalised in the lower courts while only 3% were heard in higher courts.
Lower criminal courts – Absence of legality
In arriving at the local courts, the waiting room was full of people who had been summoned to appear for their hearing. It was noisy and extremely busy. In observing the waiting room it was obvious that people were restless and were anxious to have their case heard.
Bibliography: 2. Kathy Mack and Sharyn Roach Anleu, Getting through the List: Judgecraft and Legitimacy in the Lower Courts, (2007) 16 Social Legal Studies 3 4. Pat Carlen, Magistrates Justice (1976) cited in Brown et al, Criminal Laws Books 1. David Brown et al, Criminal Laws: Material and commentary on Criminal Law and Process of New South Wales, 5th Ed, Sydney, The Federation Press, 2011 Legislation [ 2 ]. Doreen J. McBarnet, Conviction: Law, the State, and the Construction of Justice, London, The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1981. [ 3 ]. David Brown et al, Criminal Laws: Material and commentary on Criminal Law and Process of New South Wales, 5th Ed, Sydney, The Federation Press, 2011 p. 143 [ 4 ] [ 5 ]. Pat Carlen, Magistrates Justice (1976) cited in Brown et al, Criminal Laws p. 161 [ 6 ] [ 7 ]. Meredith Wilkie, ‘Composition of Juries’ in Zdenkowski et al (ed.) The Criminal Injustice System Vol. 2, Sydney, Pluto Press, 1987, p. 111 [ 8 ]