A number of court hearings take place during the prosecution process.
Someone from the prosecution team, usually the informant, will tell you about the date and time of the various court hearings. They will tell you about the type of hearing and what to expect at the hearing.
You have the right to decide whether or not to go to any of these court hearings if you are not required as a witness to give evidence.
If you are a witness in the case, there are times you will not be able to sit in the courtroom, including when other witnesses are giving evidence.
If you choose not to go to court you can ask to be kept informed about what happens in court by the informant, OPP or Witness Assistance Service.
Court hearings for crimes involving death may be held in the Magistrates’ Court, the County Court or Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne. These courts are situated in the legal precinct on opposite corners of Lonsdale and William Streets.
The Court also hear cases ‘on circuit’ in regional Victoria. If your case is going to be heard in a regional court, you will be told when and where it will be heard.
The courts generally hear cases from 10.00am until 4.15pm, with a lunch break between 1.00pm and 2.00pm. Occasionally the court may sit outside these hours.
You can contact the Witness Assistance Service for information about the court’s location and nearby amenities such as parking, cafes and churches.
As a family member you are entitled to attend any or all of the court hearings that relate to the death of your loved one. All members of the public and the media can attend court hearings unless the court orders that they be excluded from the court, or orders that the court be closed.
There are a number of aspects about going to court, and being in court, which may create additional stress for family members. The following information may assist you to prepare for being in court.
Arriving at court and working out how to get to the courtroom can be challenging, particularly if there are television cameras and photographers waiting outside the court building. You may find it useful to make prior arrangements with the prosecution team about arriving and leaving the courtroom.
Some family members find it useful to visit the court and courtrooms before the hearing. This may help you feel more comfortable and familiar in the court surroundings. WAS can arrange court tours.
There is a high level of formality inside courtrooms. Court staff and barristers usually wear wigs and gowns. Court staff have particular names which describe their position. For example, the associate and tipstaff are the staff who assist the judge during the court hearing. The barristers are the lawyers who present the case for the prosecution and defence during the hearing.
Unless the accused person is in custody, be prepared to see them and their family inside and outside the courtroom. The accused will be sitting in the ‘dock’ which is near the back of the courtroom.
It may be useful to prepare yourself for what you will see and hear in the courtroom. The trial process is focused on the facts of the case rather than specifically on your loved one. You will hear your loved one referred to as ‘the deceased’.
Evidence may include distressing images and distressing information about your loved one. Being calm and in control of your emotions in the formality of the court setting, and in front of the jury, may be incredibly difficult.
You may leave the courtroom at any time if you need to. Reading media reports of the court hearings may also cause you distress. You may want to avoid reading media reports of the process, as they may say things about your loved one that differ from your own views and recollections.
WAS can arrange support for you during court hearings, particularly if you have specific concerns about being in court. See WAS support page.
Court Network is a voluntary service that provides information and support to family members.
Court Network operates out of a number of courts including the County Court and Supreme Court of Victoria. Trained volunteers can sit with you while you are waiting or when you are inside the courtroom. They can also help you to avoid contact with family members of the accused person and assist in addressing any concerns you may have about being in court. Court Network has a room at court that is available for families and witnesses, as sometimes it is important to have a quiet space.