First appearance in court

Normally you have to attend court if you are charged with a criminal offence. In some cases, however, it is possible for the charge to be dealt with in your absence. 

If you do not go to court when you have to, you can be arrested and brought to court by the police.

When you go to court you may represent yourself or be represented by a lawyer. If you are facing a serious or complicated charge you should get legal advice before you appear in court.

Find out:

  • When you have to go to court
  • What happens if you choose not to attend
  • Whart happens if you have to attend but miss your court date
  • What happens in court
  • Can an interpreter help me in court

How do I know when to attend court?

If you are charged with a criminal offence which is to be dealt with by a court, you will be notified of your first court date by being served with:

  • a court hearing notice, or
  • a summons.

Alternatively, you may be brought to court in custody if bail is refused by police once you are charged, or there is a warrant for your arrest on the charge.

A court hearing notice means you have the option of attending court. This is used for less serious charges. You can choose to endorse it with a plea of guilty in which case the charge will be dealt with in your absence and you will be advised of the outcome.

If you endorse the court hearing notice with a plea of not guilty the court will list the charge for trial and you will be advised of the trial date.

If you do not respond to the court hearing notice and do not appear in court, the court may deal with the charge in your absence. This may include finding you guilty and imposing a penalty. You will be advised of the outcome.

If at any time the court is not happy dealing with a charge in your absence, it may issue a summons for you to attend court.

A summons requires you to attend at court and is used for more serious charges. If you have been issued with a summons it is not an option for the court to deal with the charge in your absence. If you do not attend court in response to a summons, a warrant may be issued for you to be arrested and brought to court in custody.  

Can I change my court date?

If you cannot attend court on the date set in the summons or court hearing notice you should apply to have the charge listed on an earlier date. If you do not, you risk either having the charge dealt with in your absence (if you received a court hearing notice) or having a warrant issued for your arrest (if you received a summons).

To apply for an early listing you need to fill out a Form 6 which is available from any Magistrates Court Registry or may be downloaded from the Magistrates Court website.

What happens if I miss my court date?

If you do not attend court in answer to a summons or your bail undertaking, a warrant may be issued for you to be arrested and brought to court in custody. If you do not attend in accordance with your bail undertaking, you may also be charged with an offence of breach of bail.

If you miss your court date you should attend court as soon as possible afterwards and be ready to explain the reason for not attending. If you have proof of the reason you missed court, take this with you. For example, if you had a medical emergency you should take a document with you that proves this.

If you have been issued with a court hearing notice and wish to attend court but miss the court date, you may be able to apply for a re-hearing if the charge is dealt with in your absence.

What happens when I am in court?

You can appear in court on your own behalf or you may be represented by a lawyer. Options for being represented by a lawyer are noted under Get help at court

If you are appearing on your own behalf, the first thing you should do is let the court orderly know that you have arrived, are ready to appear and will be representing yourself. When you are called to appear, stand at the bar table in front of the magistrate. Remain standing while the magistrate is speaking to you and only sit when you are invited to or when the prosecutor is speaking.

You can choose to enter a plea of guilty or a plea of not guilty to the charge when you first appear in court, or you can adjourn the charge to another date if you need more time. If you are facing a serious offence or the consequences of a conviction for the offence are significant to you, do not enter a plea until you have had the benefit of legal advice.

If you are attending court remember to:

  • be on time
  • dress neatly and remove any hat or sunglasses
  • turn off your phone
  • stand when the magistrate or judge enters and leaves the courtroom 
  • stand when you are speaking, or being spoken to.

    Can an interpreter help me in court?

    Yes, it is possible to arrange an interpreter by advising the court in advance of your court date or at the time you appear. Your charge may need to be put off to another court date so an interpreter can attend. The more notice you give the court of the need for an interpreter the greater the chance one will be available on your court date.

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      Reviewed: 10 April 2018

      Disclaimer

      The information displayed on this page is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia aims to provide information that is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information provided on this page or incorporated into it by reference.