Criminal proceedings are commenced through one of three actions: a summons issued by a magistrate; a warrant for arrest issued by a magistrate (a written authority or order to do a specific act) or arrest by the police.
All criminal cases start in the magistrates' court. Whether they proceed to a higher court depends on the nature of the offence- categorised as summary, summary by consent, indictable.
If a case goes to a higher court, the accused is tried before a judge and jury.
- Summary offences include stealing, malicious damage to property (under a certain monetary amount), motor vehicle cases and some drug cases. They are tried in the magistrates' court.
- Summary by consent offences including more serious stealing or damage to property, and some sexual offences. They are indictable offences which, by consent of all the parties concerned, can be heard either in the magistrates' court or in a higher court.
- Indictable offences include for example, murder, armed robbery and rape. It is up to the magistrate to decide whether, on the evidence available, the accused should be committed for trial in a higher court; if not, he or she is acquitted.