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Thursday, 28 May 2009

County Court appeals

An accused has an automatic right of appeal to the County Court under s 83 of the Magistrates' Court Act 1989 on sentence, or on both conviction and sentence. This second sort of appeal, where the whole case is heard again, is called a hearing de novo, Latin for as new.

These appeals are heard by a judge sitting without a jury. The justification for having a pathway of appeal from the summary jurisdiction to both the County Court and the Supreme Court is historical. Back when former registrars and JPs without any formal legal training sat on the bench in the Magistrates' Court it was considered necessary for an appellate court to review those lay decisions.

Today, with the minimum qualifications for magistrates and judges the same (and an increasing number of magistrates being appointed as judges) the reasons for retaining the de novo are less apparent. A couple of years ago the Victorian government considered abolishing them to reduce the workload of the County Court, but the idea was strongly resisted by some and was eventually rejected.

The Criminal Procedure Act 2009 retains the automatic right of appeal to the County Court, at s 254.

The online information about hearings in the County Court is not as good as the Magistrates' Court Lists. The Court Connect search function on the County Court's website requires the full name of the accused, otherwise it's unlikely to locate a match. But if you know a matter is under appeal and you simply want to check the date, this function can be handy.

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