CCJ12 Court Report:
Use this form to take notes during your visit to court. You are expected to type up your complete responses to these questions and submit your report with an assignment cover sheet. See the Court Report Information Sheet for further details.
Answer the following questions:
1. Which court did you attend and what was the date of your attendance?
(e.g. Magistrates Court in Brisbane; Supreme Court in Sydney etc)
I was present to attend the Supreme Court of Brisbane on 9th of March,2012.
2. What kind of hearing did you attend?
(e.g. sentence, summary trial, committal hearing, jury trial, mention, call-over etc)
Presided by Hon’ble Justice Debra A. Mullins I attended a sentencing hearing of O’Sachy
3. What were the charges against the defendant? Were these summary or indictable offences? How did you know this?
The charges were indictable on the defendant as he was charged with Unlawful Trafficking of a Dangerous Drug i.e. Heroin and one count of possession of Dangerous Drugs under the Queensland Parliamentary Council, 2012. As both the offences were prosecuted by way indictment which is to formally bring the charges before court and they are the offences which can only be dealt by District or Supreme Court.
4. Who was present in the courtroom? Identify the positions of all the people present (i.e. judge, prosecutor, bailiff, defendant, jury, etc) and give a brief description of their role and what you observed them do in the courtroom during your visit.
As Australia is following an adversarial system of justice the judge acts as a referee between two adversaries i.e the prosecution and the defence rather than taking part in the active investigation of the case. In this type of system the judge passes its verdict on the rule of law rather than relying upon the situations of fact. Moreover, the judges also have a responsibility to guide the jury about the authencity and weightage of a particular evidence and while sentencing its the judge’s role to grant appropriate sentence taking circumstances of the case in account. During my visit it was noted that the judge had extensive consultation with the counsels of the parties regarding their views upon the severity of the sentence, before making a decision.
Bailiff: The bailiff acts as the supporting officer to the judge whose role is to assist the judge and maintaining order in the courtroom. The bailiff has a responsibility to conduct the trial in a procedural manner like they have to call the witnesses to the stand and escort the judge etc. As it was a sentencing hearing the bailiff had reduced role due to the absence of any jury thus it was observed that he escorted the judge to the court and announced the commencement of proceedings.
Judge’s Associate: They were given a responsibility to assist the judge in administrative parts of the hearing, reading and framing the charges and performing arrangement. It was observed in my presence that the assistant read the charges and conducted the arrangement as well as handling of the formal paperwork of the case.
Prosecutor: they have a responsibility to act for the protection of the crown and in turn people as they were appointed by the department of public prosecution. They have a responsibility to frame a strong case against the defendant to satisfy the judges on the onus of proof. It was observed during my visit that the prosecutor was arguing for the sentence to be imposed and reasons for the same after duly presenting the facts of the case.
Defence Barrister: He has a responsibility to represent the case of the defendant and get a best possible verdict for him. Also, he has a responsibility to brief his client about the process of the court and follow the hearing’s progress. It was observed during my visit that the defence barrister argued for a liberal sentence for the defendant.
Defendant: They are the persons on trial and don’t have role to play without permission as the representation is done through legal counsels. It was observed during my visit that the defendant was escorted to the court by the correction officer and was made to seat at the dock and he only participated when asked some questions.
Barrister’s Associate: They have been responsibility to assist the barrister in and out of the court also they are responsible for the management of the paperwork and key research regarding the case for the barrister. It was observed during my visit that he was dealing with the clients and providing important information related to the case to the barrister.
Queensland Corrections Officer: He has been given responsibility to manage the defendant during the trial in the courtroom so that the outbursts form the defendant is prevented and was given a position to stand on both sides of the dock of the defendant. It was observed during my visit that these officers escorted defendant in and out of the courtroom.
Public: To make the criminal justice system more important the presence of public is required as the system is always accountable to the public. It was observed during my visit that many people some relatives of the defendant and other students were sitting in the gallery made for the general public.
5. Briefly describe what was happening in the courtroom. This will depend on the kind of hearing you attend. For example, if you are attending a trial you might be listening to the prosecution’s opening address; or evidence from a witness; or a Judge summing up for the jury. If you are attending a sentence you might be hearing the defence’s submissions as to penalty, or the Judge’s sentence. If you attend a Magistrate arrest court you might see a succession of summary offences dealt with.
The courtroom was bustling with discussions between the barristers and associates before the entry of the judge as the judge’s arrival was announced by the bailiff the courtroom went silent and judge entered. After taking her seat she discussed with her assistant and the prosecution about the matter to be presented and the corrections officer was duly instructed to escort the defendant to the courtroom by the judge.
The judge’s associate then performed her arriangement and the charges were read out to the defendant after which the prosecution was invited by the judge to present his arguments and his suggestions of the sentence. The suggested sentence by the prosecution was of 7 years imprisonment for the charge of unlawful trafficking. After which the defence barrister was invited to counter the charges of prosecution.
The defence explained the defendant’s condition as a low level street trafficker who is pursuing his own habit of heroin rather than supplying the same for a lavish life style and argued for a suspended sentence with a treatment in rehab facility. After discussing the treatment offered in the correctional facilities for drug addiction with the defence the judge came to a conclusion that a serious crime of trafficking can’t be overlooked on a plea of addiction.
Then the judge after much deliberation pronounced a sentence of imprisonment for 5 years with a opportunity of parole after serving of the one third of the sentence which was accepted by both the adversaries.
The sentence was then explained to the defendant by the judge and reasons for it were also given after which the corrections officer was instructed by the judge to escort defendant out of the courtroom.
6. What was the most interesting thing you observed during your visit?
The most interesting thing during my visit was my observance for the respect of the judge in the eyes of seasoned barristers and prosecutors as before the entry of the judge there were much joking and bustling going around inside the court room but as soon as the judge entry was announced everything was formalised and the silence and decorum was maintained in front of the judge.
7. Was it easy to understand what was happening in the court room? Why/why not?
My knowledge of the study of the criminal law made me understood the happenings of the court better as it was quite simple to understand and many of the terms are in lay terms.
8. Do you think a defendant would understand the court process you observed? What about a witness, or a victim of crime, or a jury member? Give reasons to support your answer.
Any defendant with a competent counsel will understand the court proceedings better as he will be briefed beforehand about the process of the court and conducting of his trial and sentencing. Even if they don’t understand all the nuances of the trial but still the briefing helps them to understand the legal complications involved in the trial as the barrister’s associate constantly briefs the defendant it is ensured that the defendant is conversant with the trial without such help he would be unable to understand.
The witness or a victim does not have facility of briefing provided under the law so they would not competently understand the nuances of trial and court processes as the defendant thus sometimes it becomes very distressing for them to attend the court proceedings.
The jury has a much better understanding of the court processes rather than the victims and witnesses as they are the one instructed by the judges and sums up the proceedings before they are deliberated upon. For the fairness of the trial higher priority were given to jury members view than the witness or victims.
9. In a paragraph or two, critically reflect upon your experience in court. Keep in mind the topics that we have covered in class this semester and identify any relevant issues or concepts we have discussed that arose in the hearing you attended.
I found the sentencing hearing of O’Sachy quite hard to watch as there was no possible participation by him and he was seated in a hunted position with defeat staring in his eyes as the judge also felt somewhat disengaged while holding control over his life at the moment and the decision was given without involving him rather taking into view the discussions forwarded by some rich and powerful people deciding a poor man’s life.
In the adversarial system the sentencing plays the most important part as judges are allowed to apply their discretion while exercising this power which should take into account all the intricacies. It is discretion that the judges should take into account to grant a sentence of deterrence, punishment or rehabilitation looking at the circumstances of the crime. In the present case a rehabilitative sentence would have served the purpose for a drug addict instead he was given a retributive sentence that meant that deterrence would not be achieved as there may be chance that after completing his prison term same offence could have been repeated by him rather if the rehabilitative sentence was given it would have transformed him and freed him from the addiction so that it would be a lesser chance that he would have repeated the offence thus deterrence would have been achieved.