Supreme Court of Western Australia

Going to Trial

You may want to attend similar court proceedings before your trial starts which will give you an idea of what to expect in your own trial and of the procedures that are followed. You can see the layout of the court on the page The People in the Court.

Civil Trials

Except in very limited circumstances, civil trials are determined by a judge. It is rare to have a jury sit on a civil trial. The trial starts with the plaintiff’s opening address. The opening address is a summary of the issues and the evidence which will prove the plaintiff’s case.

The plaintiff then commences the evidence by calling witnesses and tendering exhibits. Rules of evidence govern the process of calling witnesses and tendering exhibits. You may want to gain an understanding of the rules before trial starts. Attending other trials may help. The judge may provide you with some guidance but it will be limited.

The evidence should be easy to follow a presented in a logical order. It is important to keep to the issues in dispute and not introduce irrelevant information.

The questioning of witnesses happens in three stages:

  • Examination in chief
  • Cross examination
  • Re-examination

The plaintiff will close its case once it has called its last witness. The defendant will then open their case and follow the same process of calling witnesses and tendering exhibits as evidence.

The final step in the trial is closing submissions from both the plaintiff and defendant. Both parties review the evidence presented and persuade the Court to decide in their favour.

The judge hearing the trial will usually reserve their decision for a date in the future. This provide the judge time to consider the evidence and write the reasons for their decision.

Criminal Trials

The accused appears in the dock, which is a special place in the courtroom set aside for accused persons to sit. A document known as an 'indictment' is presented by the prosecutor which details the alleged offence. It is read by the judge's associate to the accused who is asked to plead 'guilty' or 'not guilty'. This process is referred to as the arraignment.

If the accused pleads 'guilty', he or she will be sentenced by the judge. If the accused pleads 'not guilty' the trial begins.

The jury is selected by ballot from the panel of jurors who have been summoned for that sitting. Each juror must take an oath or affirmation to bring in a verdict according to the evidence produced in the court.

Once the jury has been selected, the prosecutor starts with an address to the jury, outlining the State or Commonwealth case against the accused. After the prosecutor’s opening address, the defence may also address the jury. The prosecutor then calls witnesses to give evidence, who the defence can cross-examine.

After the cross-examination has finished, the prosecutor may re-examine the witness to clarify evidence which was given in cross-examination. The defence case follows the same procedure. If the defence have not chosen to address the jury at the start of the trial, it may do so before it calls any evidence.

After all the evidence has been presented, the prosecution and the defence review their cases in final addresses to the jury. The judge then instructs the jury about matters of law relevant to the case and identifies factual issues that the jury will have to consider.

The jury leaves the courtroom to consider the evidence and to reach a verdict. If the jury's verdict is 'not guilty', the accused is said to have been acquitted and is usually free to leave the court.

If the jury's verdict is guilty, the accused is said to have been convicted. To reach a verdict of guilty, the jury must find that the prosecution case in respect of a particular charge has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

The convicted person becomes known as "the offender" and will be sentenced by the judge. Sometimes the judge may remand the offender in custody or bail for sentencing on another day. This usually happens when the judge needs more information, such as medical or other special reports, which he or she may need to take into account when handing down sentence. 

Last updated: 1-Mar-2019

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