Courts: Difference between Local and District Courts (Part 2)

Throughout the year, Grafton holds Local Court sittings each week, but around 6 times a year, District Court “comes to town”. There are some differences between Local Court and District Court.

The main difference is that Local Court is heard by a magistrate with lawyers appearing for accused people, with no jury. District Court is when Judges, Barristers and juries play their role.

Local Court is first tier in the State court hierarchy, but it is the most used level of jurisdiction in Australia. 98% of all criminal and civil cases are finalized in Local Courts. Local courts are where all criminal matters are first heard. From the most trivial breach right through to murder cases, they all start in Local Courts.

In a matter where an accused is pleading not guilty to charges, there is a process where evidence is brought forward and the guilt of the accused is decided.

In Local Court, this is called a hearing. Local Courts are presided over by a single magistrate. The magistrate is therefore decider of both fact and law. He hears the evidence, decides if he or she finds the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and then sentences. The sentence is limited to 2 years in the local court. Many crimes provide for larger sentences than this, and 22 those criminal matters may be heard in the District Court.

District Court is the “middle court” in the state’s legal system. It can deal with “indictable” matters except for murder.

Offences have differing categories. To start with, they are either summary, indictable, or strictly indictable. Summary matters are less serious and dealt with in the Local Court. If a charge on your court attendance notice has a small “si” next to it, meaning strictly indictable, then you are on your way to the district court for trial if you are pleading not guilty, or for sentence if you are entering a plea of guilty.

In the middle are indictable, where either the police can have the matter “elected” to the District Court, or in some cases the accused can “elect” it to the District Court.

Next article will discuss why you would want your matter dealt with in the District Court.

If you have any questions you would like answered either confidentially or via this medium, please email us at

This is intended for general information and does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Formal legal advice should be sought.

On February 16th, 2011, posted in: Know the Law by
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