In Queensland, there are 3 levels of court:
Most people (about 95%) are sentenced in the Magistrates Courts. The District Court and Supreme Court sentence people found guilty of more serious criminal offences.
Queensland laws set out the maximum penalties for each offence and also include rules about what level of court can deal with different offences.
Most people (about 95%) are sentenced in the Magistrates Courts, which is the lowest level of court. This court deals with a range of offences from less serious and minor offences (such as traffic offences, shoplifting and disorderly behaviour) to more serious offences (such as assault, burglary, and some drug offences).
Generally, in the Magistrates Courts, the magistrate:
- can sentence offences that have a maximum penalty of 3 years or less
- can only give a prison sentence of 3 years or less if sentencing for an offence which has a higher maximum penalty
- must send a case to a higher court if the appropriate sentence is likely to be a sentence of more than 3 years
- will decide a person’s guilt if they do not plead guilty (not a jury).
The District Court deals with serious criminal offences such as rape, armed robbery, fraud and very serious drug offences.
If the person is convicted, the Court can give a person a sentence up to (and including) the offence’s maximum penalty.
A jury will decide the person’s guilt if they plead not guilty — although if the prosecution or defence ask, the Court can find that a judge should decide the person’s guilt instead. It is up to the Court to decide this.
The highest court in Queensland is the Supreme Court. This is where people are sentenced for very serious offences such as murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and the most serious forms of drug trafficking and supply.
If the person is convicted, the Court can impose a sentence up to (and including) the offence’s maximum penalty.
Like the District Court, a jury will decide the person’s guilt if they plead not guilty — although if the prosecution or defence ask, the Court can find that a judge should decide the person’s guilt instead. It is up to the Court to decide this.
If a person pleads guilty to an offence, but the defence and prosecution disagree about what the person did, then a judge must decide what happened before they sentence them. This is called a contested sentence.
For example, a person might plead guilty to the manslaughter (unlawful killing) of a child. The person may say that all they did is fail to seek medical attention, not cause the injuries that led to the child’s death, but the prosecution disagrees that this is what happened.
There are also a number of specialist courts and programs in Queensland.
This information is not intended to provide legal advice and has been prepared for the purposes of providing information only. While all reasonable care has been taken in the preparation of this information, no liability is assumed for any errors or omissions.