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Indictable offences in the Magistrates Court of QLD

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Generally, indictable offences in Queensland are dealt with by the District or Supreme Courts, as they are usually serious offences. However, in some cases, indictable offences can or must be dealt with in the Magistrates Court.

The Criminal Code

Section 1 of the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld) defines an “indictment” to mean a written charge preferred against an accused person in order to the person’s trial before some court other than justices exercising summary jurisdiction. A “summary conviction” is defined as summary conviction before a Magistrates Court.

Section 3 of the Criminal Code provides that offences are of 2 kinds, namely, criminal offences and regulatory offences. Criminal offences comprise crimes, misdemeanours and simple offences. Crimes and misdemeanours are indictable offences, which means that the offenders cannot, unless otherwise expressly stated, be prosecuted or convicted except upon indictment. A person guilty of a regulatory offence or a simple offence may be summarily convicted by a Magistrates Court.

Sections 1 and 3 of the Code make it clear that the indictable offences are to be dealt with in the District or Supreme Courts, unless the Code provides otherwise. In the District or Supreme Courts, a jury is normally the trier of fact in a criminal trial. In contrast, a trial in the Magistrates Court is a called a summary trial, and the presiding Magistrate is the sole trier of fact. A matter dealt with summarily is dealt with in the Magistrates Court.

Chapter 58A of the Criminal Code (containing sections 552A -552BB inclusive) provides for when indictable offences must or can be heard summarily.

Section 552A of the Criminal Code provides for a list of indictable offences which must be dealt with summarily on Prosecution election.

Section 552B of the Criminal Code provides for a list of indictable offences which must be dealt with summarily, unless the defendant elects for a jury trial.

Section 552BA of the Criminal Code provides for a list of indictable offences which must be dealt with summarily, unless they are excluded offences under section 552BB of the Code.

Sections 552A, 552B and 552BA of the Criminal Code are all subject to section 552D, which provides that the Magistrates Court must abstain from hearing and determining a charge and must instead conduct a committal proceeding if it is an offence listed at Schedule 1C of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, the Court is of the view that the defendant may not be adequately punished on summary conviction after considering submissions or if exceptional circumstances exist.

Section 552H of the Criminal Code provides that the maximum period of imprisonment under section 552A , 552B or 552BA is three years, unless the court is constituted by a magistrate imposing a drug and alcohol treatment order, in which case the maximum penalty is four years imprisonment.

Indictable offences which Prosecution can elect for summary trial

The list of indictable offences that must be dealt with summarily on Prosecution election is contained at section 552A(1) of the Criminal Code.

The offences listed include the commission, counselling or procuring, attempt or becoming an accessory after the fact of any of the following offences under the Criminal Code:

Section 141: Aiding persons to escape from lawful custody.

Section 142: Escaping from lawful custody.

Section 143: a person responsible for keeping someone in from lawful custody permitting escape from lawful custody.

Section 205A: Contravening order about information necessary to access information stored electronically.

Section 340: assaults committed with intent to commit a crime, or as part of an unlawful conspiracy in relation to any manufacture, trade, business, or occupation or committed against a police officer, a person performing a legal duty, a person aged over 60, or a person who relies on a guide, hearing or assistance dog, wheelchair or other remedial device.

Indictable offences which must be dealt with summarily unless defence elects jury trial

The indictable offences that must be dealt with summarily unless the defence elects for a jury trial are listed at Section 552B(1) of the Code.

The offences listed include the commission, counselling or procuring, attempt or becoming an accessory after the fact of any of the following offences under the Criminal Code:

A sexual offence without a circumstance of aggravation for which the defendant has pleaded guilty, the complainant is at least 14 years of age and the maximum sentence is more than three years.

Section 339: assault occasioning bodily harm which is not committed in company, without the use of a dangerous or offensive weapon or instrument and not during the term of a community service order.

An offence involving an assault without a circumstance of aggravation and which is not of a sexual nature, and for which the maximum penalty is more than 3 years but not more than 7 years.

Section 60A: Participants in criminal organisation being knowingly present in public places.

Section 60B: Participants in criminal organisation entering prescribed places and attending prescribed events.

Section 76:  Recruiting a person to become participant in criminal organisation.

Section 77B:  Habitually consorting with recognised offenders.

Section: 316A: Unlawful drink spiking.

Section 328A: Dangerous operation of a vehicle (with a circumstance of aggravation at Section 328A(2)).

359E Punishment of unlawful stalking if the maximum term of imprisonment for which the defendant is liable is not more than 5 years.

An offence against chapter 14 (Corrupt and improper practices at elections), division 2 (Legislative Assembly elections and referendums), if the maximum term of imprisonment for which the defendant is liable is more than 3 years.

An offence against chapter 22A (Prostitution), if the maximum term of imprisonment for which the defendant is liable is more than 3 years.

An offence against chapter 42A (Secret Commissions).

 

Indictable offences which must be dealt with summarily

Section 552BA(4) of the Code provides that ‘relevant offences’ must be heard and dealt with summarily.

Relevant offences are defined as indictable offences which either:

  1. 1. carry maximum sentences of three years or less; or
  2. 2. are an offence under part 6 of the Code, excluding an offence under Chapter 42A (secret commissions) or an ‘excluded offence’ listed at Section 552BB.

 

The list of excluded offences contained in the table of Section 552BB includes the following offences:

Section 461: Arson

Section 462: Endangering particular property by fire.

Section 463: Setting fire to crops and growing plants

Section 467: Endangering the safe use of vehicles and related transport infrastructure

Section 469A: Sabotage and threatening sabotage

Section 470: Attempts to destroy property by explosives

The list of excluded offences contained in the table of Section 552BB also includes the following indictable offences if committed in the following circumstances:

Section 398: stealing – if:

the amount stolen, yield or detriment is equal or more than $30,000, and the offender does not plead guilty; or

the thing stolen was a firearm for use in another indictable offence.

Section 399: fraudulent concealment of documents – if the offence is not committed in relation to a document recording title to property,  or the yield or detriment is equal or more than $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

Section 403: Severing with intent to steal – if the amount in question is equal or more than $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

Section 406: Bringing stolen goods into Queensland – if the amount in question is equal or more than $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

Section 408A: Unlawful use or possession of motor vehicles, aircraft or vessels – if the value of the motor vehicle, aircraft or vessel is equal or more than $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty, or if the offender is liable for at least 10 years imprisonment (ie if they used the vehicle for the commission of an indictable offence or intended to or did wilfully destroy, damage, remove or otherwise interfere with the mechanism (or part thereof) or other part of or equipment attached to the motor vehicle, aircraft or vessel).

Section 408C: Fraud – if the amount in question is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

Section 408E Computer hacking and misuse – If the offender causes a detriment or damage or obtains a benefit for any person to the value of more than $5,000, or intends to commit an indictable offence, and the offender does not plead guilty.

Chapter 38 Stealing with violence or extortion by threats – excluding sections 413 (Assault with intent to steal) and 414 (Demanding property with menaces with intent to steal).

Section 419 Burglary – if:

the offender uses or threatens to use actual violence;

the offender is or pretends to be armed;

the offender damages or threatens to damage any property by at least $30,000 in value and the offender does not plead guilty; or

the offender then commits an indictable offence in the dwelling.

Section 421 Entering or being in premises and committing indictable offences – if:

the offender commits an indictable offence in the premises which must proceed on indictment; or

the offender enters by means of a break and the value of damage caused by the break is of at least $30,000.

Section 427 Unlawful entry of vehicle for committing indictable offence – if the offence is committed in the night or the offender uses or threatens violence, pretends to be armed, is in company or damages or threatens to damage any property.

Section 430 Fraudulent falsification of records – if the amount in question is equal or more than $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

Section 433 Receiving tainted property – if the amount in question is equal or more than $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

Section 435 Taking reward for recovery of property obtained by way of indictable offences – if the amount in question is equal or more than $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

Chapter 44 Offences analogous to stealing related to animals – if the value of the animals is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

Section 468 Injuring animals– If the animal in question is stock, the value of the animals is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

Section 469 Wilful damage – if any of the following apply:

property is damaged or destroyed by explosion;

the property in question is—(i) a bank or wall of the sea or inland water; or(ii) a work relating to a port or inland water; or

if the property in question is any part of a railway, or any work connected with a railway

If the property in question is an aircraft or anything whatever either directly or indirectly connected with the guidance control or operation of an aircraft

If the property in question is a vessel, a light, beacon, buoy, mark or signal used for navigation or for the guidance of sailors, a bank, work or wall of the sea or inland water

If the property in question is a manufacturing or agricultural machine or another thing used, or intended for use, for manufacture or for performing a process connected with the preparation of agricultural produce and is destroyed or rendered useless

If the property in question is a well or bore for water or the dam, bank, wall, or floodgate of a millpond or pool.

Section 471 Damaging mines – if the value of the damage is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

Section 472 Interfering with marine signals – if the value of any damage or detriment is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

Section 473 Interfering with navigation works – if the value of any damage or detriment is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

Section 474 Communicating infectious diseases to animals – if the value of any damage or detriment is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

Section 488 Forgery and uttering – if the document is a valuable security, insurance policy, testamentary instrument (whether the testator is living or dead) or registration document or is evidence of an interest in land, or a power of attorney, contract or document kept or issued by lawful authority OR the value of any yield or detriment is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

Section 498 Falsifying warrants for money payable under public authority – if the value of any yield or detriment is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

514 Personation in general – If the representation is that the offender is a person entitled by will or operation of law to any specific property, and the person commits the offence with intent to obtain such property or possession thereof or the value of any yield or detriment is at least $30,000 and the offender does not plead guilty.

Conclusion

There a number of indictable offences in Queensland that can or must be dealt with summarily in the Magistrates Court. Generally speaking, an indictable offence must be dealt with summarily if it carries a maximum sentence of three years or less, or it is an offence under part 6 of the Code (excluding Chapter 42A) for which the monetary value is less than $30,000 or the offender pleads guilty, and the offender is liable for a maximum period of imprisonment which is less than 14 years imprisonment.

When considering whether an indictable offence could or should must be dealt with summarily, one should consider the following:

    1. 1. Whether it is an offence referred to in sections 552A, 552B and 552BA of the Code;
    2. 2. If the offence is mentioned at section 552A(1) of the Code, whether the Prosecution has or will elect to have it dealt with summarily;
    3. 3. If the offence is mentioned at section 552BA of the Code, whether it is an excluded offence under section 552BB of the Code; and
    4. 4. Whether the Magistrates Court may decide under section 552D of the Code that the offender may not be adequately sentenced or if there are exceptional circumstances.

 

As the Magistrates Court deals with offences more quickly and can normally only sentence an offender for up to three years imprisonment, there are potential advantages for a defendant in having a matter dealt with summarily. However, such a course is subject to section 552D, which requires the Magistrate to abstain from exercising its jurisdiction if the offender may not be adequately sentenced or if there are exceptional circumstances.

Was Cardinal George Pell wrongly convicted?

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Pell

The facts

In December of last year, controversial Catholic Church Cardinal George Pell was convicted of one count of sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16 and four counts of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16 over allegations of abusing choirboys at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in the 1990s. This followed a previous trial that resulted in a hung jury.

The complainant said he and another choirboy left the liturgical procession at the end of one Sunday mass and went fossicking in the off-limits sacristy where they started swilling altar wine. Pell allegedly arrived unaccompanied, castigated them, and then, while fully robed in his copious liturgical vestments, proceeded to commit three sexual acts, including oral penetration of the complainant. The complainant said the sacristy door was wide open and altar servers were passing along the corridor. The complainant said he and the other boy then returned to choir practice.

Prior to both trials, Pell had been subject of substantial adverse pre-trial publicity, including a Royal Commission into child sex abuse, a book by Louise Milligan described as a hatchet job and an abusive song by Tim Minchin.

Relevant law

At common law, a person charged with a criminal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law (Woolmington v DPP [1935] AC 462; Howe v R (1980) 32 ALR 478). The presumption is not that the accused is not guilty, it is that the accused is innocent (R v Palmer (1992) 64 A Crim R 1).

The presumption of innocence has been enshrined in s25(1) of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic). The presumption of innocence is only relevant to the accused. It is a misdirection to tell the jury that witnesses are presumed to be innocent (Howe v R (1980) 32 ALR 478).

Section 141(1) of the Evidence Act 2008 (Vic) provides that:

“In a criminal proceeding, the court is not to find the case of the prosecution proved unless it is satisfied that it has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.”

Section 49B of the Crimes Act 2008 (Vic) provides that:

(1)     A person (A) commits an offence if—        

(a)     A intentionally—             

(i)     sexually penetrates another person (B);…

and       

(b)     B is a child under the age of 16 years.   

(2)     A person who commits an offence against subsection (1) is liable to level 4 imprisonment (15 years maximum).

Criticisms of the jury’s decision

Andrew Bolt:

“Here is why I don’t believe this gothic story — or not enough to think this conviction reasonable.

One of the boys, now dead, denied he’d been abused.

The other, whose identity and testimony remain secret, didn’t speak of it for many years.

The attack is meant to have happened straight after Mass, when Pell is known to have traditionally spoken to worshippers leaving Mass.

It allegedly happened in the sacristy, normally a very busy room, where Pell would have known people were almost certain to walk in.

The boys had allegedly slipped away from the procession after Mass to break into the sacristy, but none of the other choristers who gave evidence said they’d noticed them doing so, or noticed them rejoining the choir later.

Pell was normally followed everywhere during and after Mass by the master of ceremonies, Monsignor Charles Portelli, who testified that he escorted the then Archbishop from the moment he arrived at the cathedral, until the moment he left. He declared the assault impossible. Not a single witness from what was a busy cathedral at the time of the alleged abuse noticed a thing during the estimated 10 minutes of this alleged attack.”

Frank Brennan:

“The second boy was once asked by his mother if he had ever been abused by anybody and he said he had not…

Anyone familiar with the conduct of a solemn cathedral mass with full choir would find it most unlikely that a bishop would, without grave reason, leave a recessional procession and retreat to the sacristy unaccompanied.

Witnesses familiar with liturgical vestments were called. They gave compelling evidence it was impossible to produce an erect penis through a seamless alb. An alb is a long robe, worn under a heavier chasuble. It is secured and set in place by a cincture, which is like a tightly drawn belt. An alb cannot be unbuttoned or unzipped, the only openings being small slits on the side to allow access to trouser pockets.

The complainant’s initial claim to police was that Pell had parted his vestments, but an alb cannot be parted; it is like a seamless dress.

Later, the complainant said Pell moved the vestments to the side. An alb secured with a cincture cannot be moved to the side. The police never inspected the vestments during their investigations, nor did the prosecution show that the vestments could be parted or moved to the side as the complainant had alleged. The proposition that the offences charged were committed immediately after mass by a fully robed archbishop in the sacristy with an open door and in full view from the corridor seemed incredible to my mind.

I was very surprised by the verdict. In fact, I was devastated. My only conclusion is the jury must have disregarded many of the criticisms so tellingly made by Richter of the complainant’s evidence…

Pell has been in the public spotlight for a very long time. There are some who would convict him of all manner of things in the court of public opinion, no matter what the evidence. Others would never convict him of anything, holding him in the highest regard. The criminal justice system is intended to withstand these preconceptions. The system is under serious strain, when it comes to Pell.”

Greg Craven:

“The main institutions involved here are the media and the police. The media must report cases fairly, abide by the letter and spirit of the law, and not barrack for either side. The police present evidence impartially, working for justice, not conviction. Media and police never combine to form a pro-conviction cheer squad.

This is where the Pell case has gone terribly wrong. Impartial judge and jury accepted, parts of the media — notably the ABC and former Fairfax journalists — have spent years attempting to ensure Pell is the most odious figure in Australia. They seemed to want him in the dock as an ogre, not a defendant.

Worse, elements of Victoria Police, including Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton, co-operated in this. Ashton’s repeated announcements of impending charges and references to “victims” rather than “alleged victims” were matched only by the coincidences in timing between police pronouncements and favoured media exclusives…

So what we have witnessed is a combined effort by much of the media, including the public broadcaster, and elements of Victoria’s law enforcement agency, to blacken the name of someone before he went to trial…

This is not a story about whether a jury got it right or wrong, or about whether justice is seen to prevail. It’s a story about whether a jury was ever given a fair chance to make a decision, and whether our justice system can be heard above a media mob.”

Paul Kelly:

“There have been two trials of Cardinal George Pell — in the court of justice to decide if he was guilty of sexual abuse of children, and in the court of public opinion over nearly two decades that saw him accused of indifference, deception and ultimately evil compliance in the monumental sins of the Catholic Church.

The tests in these trials are different. The test in the first trial was whether the evidence showed Pell guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” as a sexual predator who abused his authority to brutally exploit two choirboys. There is no test in the second trial — no judge or jury — just the hardening of opinion towards Pell and then his demonisation as the nation’s senior Catholic during the long and climactic revelations of unforgivable sexual abuse within the church.

The law requires these trials to be separate. Indeed, justice ­depends upon it. Yet how realistic is this?…

Pell cannot escape responsibility for the failures of the church but the sustained visceral hostility towards Pell transcends institutional accountability. The vile hatred towards him is worse than displayed towards a serial killer. Veteran lawyers said privately they had never seen anything like it in their careers. What does this tell us not just about Pell but about ourselves? The Pell story goes beyond the institutional and cultural failure of the Catholic Church. It is far bigger, more complicated and dangerous…

Pell arrived suddenly, censured them and then, with the sacristy door open, people passing in the corridor, and still in his heavy mass vestments including the alb, a long secured vestment without front buttons or zipper, proceeded to sexually assault the boys, whom he did not know, in an extremely brief period of time. There was no witness to support the complainant. The former choirboy’s evidence was given in secret. Brennan called the entire scenario ­“incredible”.”

Joe Hildebrand:

“For many it is clear that Pell’s jailing is a watershed moment that has delivered some kind of catharsis, some sense that the system finally worked — perhaps even some sense of revenge. For many others — including the dead — it is far too little, far too late.

Certainly it has been clear from many responses, by survivors and commentators alike, that they see Pell as being punished for many other crimes on top of the one confirmed in the Victorian County Court.

But by conflating one incident at St Patrick’s Cathedral in the mid-1990s with the myriad atrocities committed by Catholic clergymen throughout the decades — including Pell’s own sins of omission — the sense of justice may be short lived.

As satisfying as it may be for victims of church abuse to see Pell punished, it is vital that he is punished for the right thing.”

Conclusion

If the above reports are true (and there are no important facts which would have supported the convictions), it seems likely that it was not open to the jury to be satisfied of Pell’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt and he should have his conviction overturned on appeal. It is unsurprising that legal experts assess Pell’s chances of having his conviction overturned on appeal as quite good.

Victoria (unlike NSW and QLD) does now allow for judge only trials. Serious consideration should be given to changing this, as the Pell case demonstrates the need for defendants who have received such awful pre-trial publicity to have their case tried in a way where such adverse publicity will not affect the result of the trial.

And given that this is the case, a successful appeal should probably lead to a verdict of not guilty being entered instead of another retrial.

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