About the District Court
The District Court is the second tier of the court system after the Magistrates Court.
The court sits in 32 locations across Queensland and matters are presided over by a judge. Judges also travel throughout the state to hear matters in regional and remote areas.
Other District Court areas of responsibility are the:
- Childrens Court of Queensland—which deals with serious cases involving defendants under 17 years of age
- Planning and Environment Court—which hears disputes about town planning, land subdivision and rezoning.
What the District Court deals with
The District Court deals with serious crimes, including armed robbery, rape and dangerous driving.
Under Queensland law, all criminal cases must first be brought to the Magistrates Court. Serious criminal offences such as these are committed to the District Court for trial or sentencing. Criminal trials in the District Court will involve a jury.
The District Court also deals with civil disputes between people and organisations involving amounts between $150,000 and $750,000.
Unlike a criminal case, a civil action can be commenced and heard in the District Court without first being heard in the Magistrates Court.
Most appeals against decisions made in the Magistrates Court are also heard in the District Court.
In a criminal trial, a jury of 12 people selected at random decides whether an accused is guilty or not guilty based on the facts of the case. A judge makes all other decisions, including penalties.
If a criminal trial is held without a jury, the judge decides whether an accused is guilty.
In a civil trial, a judge makes all decisions, including orders that one party pay another or perform certain actions to rectify a problem.
Very occasionally, a civil trial may be held with a jury of four people who answer any question of fact put to it by the judge.
In an appeal hearing, a judge makes all decisions.
Who attends court
In a criminal trial the evidence against the accused is presented by the prosecutor from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (Queensland) or the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. The ‘accused’ is the person charged with a criminal offence and may be represented by a solicitor and/or a barrister.
In a civil trial the evidence against the defendant is presented by the plaintiff (or applicant)—the person or organisation that commenced the civil proceeding. They may be represented by a solicitor and/or barrister.
The defendant (or respondent) is the person whom the civil proceeding is being brought against and may also be represented by a solicitor and/or barrister.
In an appeal hearing, the reasons for the appeal and any supporting documentation is presented by the appellant—the person or organisation that commenced the appeal. They may be represented by a solicitor and/or barrister.
The respondent is the opposing person or organisation to the appeal and may also be represented by a solicitor and/or barrister.
Others who may attend court include:
- court staff
- judge’s associate—assists the judge with proceedings, reads out charges, calls the names of prospective jurors and reads documents to the court
- bailiff—calls witnesses and asks for their oath or affirmation, looks after the jury, and announces the beginning and end of the court session
- witnesses—may give evidence on behalf of either party in a criminal and civil trial
- interpreter—may interpret for an accused, plaintiff, applicant, defendant, appellant, respondent or witness who doesn’t speak or understand English well or has a hearing impairment
- public and media—may attend unless access and reporting is restricted, e.g. if the defendant is under 17 years of age, or a child witness gives evidence or in other situation as ordered by the judge.
What happens at a trial or hearing
- Each party presents its case—prosecution first followed by the defence.
- Each party calls witnesses to support their case, who may be questioned by both sides.
- Once all evidence has been presented, the jury (or the judge) decides whether the accused is guilty or not guilty of the charges.
- If the jury (or judge) finds the accused:
- not guilty—the judge dismisses the charges
- guilty—the judge passes sentence on the defendant.
A sentence may include a prison term, fine or community service. Read more about how sentencing works.
- Each party presents its case—the plaintiff (or applicant) first followed by the defendant (or respondent).
- Each party calls witnesses to support their case who may be questioned by both sides.
- The judge decides if the case has been proven and gives judgment. There is no guilty or not guilty verdict.
A judgment may be an order for one party to pay another an amount of money or perform actions to rectify the problem that led to the dispute. Read more about civil judgments.
Hearing of appeal (s. 222 of Justices Act)
- Each party presents its case—the appellant first followed by the respondent.
- The judge listens to the argument and reads any materials provided, and decides if an error of law was made or a crucial fact was overlooked in the original hearing.
- The judge makes an order and gives reasons for the decision. If the judge decides:
- there was no error in law or crucial fact overlooked, they dismiss the appeal and nothing changes
- there was an error in law or a crucial fact overlooked, they may order a retrial or resentence; replace the original order with a different order; or increase/decrease the sentence length (if relevant).
Appealing a decision
A party to a proceeding may appeal a District Court decision to the Court of Appeal on various grounds such as if new evidence has come to light or they believe the judge has made an error of law, affecting the outcome.
Find out more about appealing a court decision.