In New South Wales, the majority of civil and criminal matters are heard in the Local Court. NSW Police Force employs individuals who act as police prosecutors in the Local Court.
A prosecutor who is often referred to as a Sergent is a part of the Police Force and will appear on behalf of the Police in the Local Court. While they work for the NSW Police Force, they do not have to wear uniforms in Court.
Their role is to prosecute offenders in New South Wales rather than arrest and charge an alleged offender. They will also have to provide advocacy services to victims of domestic and family violence.
They are usually found to be sitting at the ‘bar table’ next to defence lawyers. They usually have many files and appear in each matter on behalf of the crown. They appear mainly in the Local Courts and are involved in all stages of the prosecution process, including bail and mentions. However, the Police Prosecutors in NSW only deal with the most minor, serious types of offences which are called summary offences, Table 1 and 2 offences. Summary offences also include drink driving, and traffic offences.
Police Prosecutor’s work is to act on behalf of the crown in a fair and reasonable manner. They will prosecute summary matters in the local court. The prosecutor must present the evidence gathered by the police to the court and assist the magistrate in making an informed decision.
Police Prosecutors will refer complex and serious matters to be prosecuted for the NSW Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Victims and witnesses are represented by the police. The police will advise them of the date and place of the court hearing or if any charges are laid against the defendant. Victims will not need to hire a lawyer as they are witnesses for the prosecution. It is the prosecution’s job to represent the community for the public interest. However, they cannot provide legal advice to victims and witnesses.
If a witness is required to attend court, a police officer in charge who is responsible for the investigation and will make contact asking them to attend by way of subpoena. The Police Prosecutor will advise the victims of the procedures for giving evidence.
While a Police Prosecutor appears in the local court, the DPP appears in high Courts like the district or Supreme Court. The police will refer more serious offences such as strictly indictable offences to the DPP. They can also elect Table 1 and Table 2 offences to go to a high court if they believe the offence committed is serious.
The role of the DPP solicitor is to assess the strength of the prosecution case and whether appropriate charges have been laid. The DPP is governed by the DPP guidelines when deciding whether a case should go ahead and what form it should take. If the case does go ahead the DPP’s job will be to present the evidence and assist the judge and the court in making an informed decision.
If any matter proceeds to trial, the Crown Prosecutors who are Barristers will assist the DPP to prosecute the offences.
A police prosecutor is employed by the NSW Police force while the DPP solicitor works for the DPP independent prosecutor authority for NSW. Due to the large number of matters that the police prosecutor must appear in, the prosecutor will often follow the direction of the officer in charge. This often impacts the accused as they follow the instructions of the police instead of making an independent and informed decision. This often impacts the defendant as the prosecution will fail to make their own independent decision of whether a case should go ahead or be withdrawn.
There is a lack of independence that the police prosecutors have compared to the DPP Solicitors. Once the matter proceeds to the DPP, it will create a separation barrier. This means that those who investigated a matter (NSW Police) will not have the final say as to whether those charges will be withdrawn, negotiated or defended in a hearing/ trial. The NSW Police’s job is to investigate the offences and hand over the evidence to the crown.
In NSW, police prosecutors are sworn police officers who are trained to act as advocates in the local courts. In some states in Australia, Police Prosecutors are required to hold legal qualifications. However, it is not a requirement to perform the role. Their role is to liaise with the officer in charge, members of the judiciary and the criminal defence lawyers.
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