About the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest level of court in Queensland. It comprises the trial division and the Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court sits in 11 regional courthouses and matters are presided over by a judge. Judges also travel throughout the state to hear matters in regional and remote areas.
What the trial division does
The trial division deals with the most serious criminal offences, including major drug offences, attempted murder, manslaughter and murder.
Under Queensland law, all criminal cases must first be brought to the Magistrates Court. Serious criminal offences such as these are committed to the Supreme Court for trial or sentencing.
The trial division also deals with civil disputes between people and organisations over money or property involving amounts greater than $750,000.
Unlike a criminal case, a civil action can be commenced and heard in the Supreme Court without first being heard in the Magistrates Court.
The Court of Appeal hears appeals from the trial division and 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 judges 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.
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. 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.
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 situations as ordered by the judge.
What happens at a trial
- 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.
Appealing a decision
A person may appeal a Supreme 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.