A committal hearing, which is also known as an initial proceeding or preliminary examination, is held in the Local Court, and is used for the purpose of determining if there is sufficient evidence to send a defendant to trial in the District or Supreme Court.
Think of a committal hearing as a preliminary hearing before the court. The hearing happens before a charge is formally filed. The court will hear out the prosecution and determine if there is merit to their complaint against you.
The first goal that you should aim for is to have the case against you dismissed. If that doesn’t happen then at the very least you will know all the evidence of the prosecution and this will give you the leverage you need for trial. So, also think of a committal hearing as a mode of discovery which you must take advantage of.
In a committal hearing you can cross examine the prosecution’s witnesses and the police. You should grab this opportunity to show to the court that there is insufficient evidence against you. Make sure to polish your cross examination questions to perfection.
You are not compelled to present evidence for your defence in a committal hearing. It is optional, meaning, you may or may not present defence evidence. Some would think it risky to present evidence during the early stage of the case. If you do, the prosecution will know your defence and will prepare for it before the trial stage. Another disadvantage is that if the case goes to trial the evidence you presented may be used against you.
Still, there are some defendants who think it is best to present witnesses and evidence. The witnesses that you present will be cross examined by the prosecution. Unless you are positive that your evidence will get your case dismissed then it is better to remain silent. After all, the burden of proving that you committed a violation is on the prosecution. It is not your burden to prove your innocence because in the first place you are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The court only needs to determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence to bring the case for trial before a jury. The dismissal of a case during a committal hearing is due to insufficiency of evidence which is not the same as an acquittal. An acquittal is if the court finds that there is not enough evidence to judge the defendant guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
The dismissal in a committal hearing is only provisional because the prosecution will not be prevented from getting more evidence to prosecute again the defendant. It may be that the case against you will be revived.
If the court decides that there is sufficient evidence then you will be charged and will have to enter your plea. Then the court will schedule your case for trial.