On 5 March 2018, the Summary Procedure (Indictable Offences) Amendment Act 2017 (SA) (“the Act”) came into effect. The Act was enacted to make legislative changes to a wide range of laws governing the Criminal law in South Australia.
Of particular note, the Act made changes to Committal Proceedings and the Early Guilty Plea Scheme.
Changes to the Early Guilty Plea Scheme
In March 2013, a scheme commenced to provide an incentive for a defendant to enter a plea of guilty at the earliest instance. The legislated scheme provides for the reduction of a sentence by up to 40% if a guilty plea is entered at an early stage with the Court.
From 5 March 2018, the Act amends the scheme in a way that allows for a 10% reduction to be applied to penalties imposed after a finding of guilt at Trial if the Defendant has been compliant with pre-trial disclosure. Prior to the amendments, such a discount was not available and a 10% reduction post-trial could only be applied if the Court was satisfied that good reasons existed to do so – clearly the hurdle in attaining this discount post-trial has been reduced.
The Act also amends the timeframes which apply to reductions from an early guilty plea. From 5 March 2018, you may be eligible for the following discount credit:
If a guilty plea is entered within the first four weeks after the defendant first appears in court in relation to the offence;
If a guilty plea is entered on the day of or before the committal appearance;
If a guilty plea is entered after the committal appearance but before the defendant is committed for trial;
If a guilty plea is entered after the defendant is committed for trial but before arraignment;
If a guilty plea is entered after arraignment but before commencement of the trial
In the circumstances where the defence is compliant with pre-trial disclosure
Changes to Committal Proceedings
Committal Hearing & the Committal Brief
Prior to the commencement of the Act, defendants charged with major indictable offences (being charges of a serious nature carrying generally greater penalties than other offences) would be required to attend a fixed Declarations hearing and Answer Charge hearing. Those hearings would normally occur at set 6 to 8 week intervals. At those hearings, the Defendant would respectively be provided with the evidence supporting the Prosecution case and would thereafter be required to formally answer the charge and enter their plea.
The Act has made it so that there are no fixed Declarations and Answer Charge dates. Both of these appearances are now set on a case by case basis on the recommendation of the Prosecution. The Declarations hearing has been entirely abolished and has been replaced by a hearing known as the Committal hearing. Although a name change has occurred, the substance of the hearing remains relatively the same, being that it is the date in which disclosure of the Prosecution evidence is made.
A common issue in committal proceedings was that the Prosecution was not in a position to disclose evidence at the Declarations hearing, and that disclosure of evidence would occur sporadically, even up to and including at trial. The Act has addressed these issues by mandating that the Prosecution provide all material (called a Committal Brief) to the defendant at the Committal hearing. If it seems as though substantial time is required to prepare the Committal Brief, the Court is required to set a future court date which allows for the Committal Brief to be completed. In effect, this particular reform is aimed at reducing unnecessary appearances in Court.
The Prosecution Case Statement
A key change to committal proceedings is the requirement for the Prosecution to file a Case Statement prior to arraignment. The Case Statement is a document which outlines a summary of the key facts, the witnesses relied upon by the Prosecution, a description of any evidence in relation to the offences as well as a range of other matters relevant to trial. No such document was required to be filed prior to the commencement of the Act. Naturally, a detailed statement of the Prosecution’s case is aimed to allow for a Defendant to fully consider the case and make a determination as to whether a trial is to be pursued, or whether a plea is a better alternative option.
It is important to note that Defendants are also required to file a Case Statement, but the details required to be elaborated upon by the Defendant are considerably less onerous in order to preserve the Defendant’s right to silence.
Please contact us urgently if you or someone you know has been charged with a criminal offence. The Criminal Lawyers at Georgiadis Lawyers are prepared to work within the new legislative changes and can assist you in defending any serious criminal offending.