The purpose of clause 24 is to extend the current procedure of pleading guilty in writing, which is in section 12 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980, to summary offences that are charged by the police. Under the procedure, a defendant can indicate a guilty plea in writing, and then the court can convict him or her of the summary offence in question without the defendant’s having to appear before it for a hearing.
Under existing law the procedure applies only to summary offences begun by summons or written charge. Clause 24 provides that a defendant can adopt the procedure in cases begun by police charge. In all cases, opting to plead guilty in writing and to be convicted in absence will remain entirely voluntary. Clause 24 reaffirms and continues the important safeguard that a magistrates court cannot sentence a defendant to custody, or impose a driving disqualification, without first bringing him or her to court.
Under the clause it will also remain the case that the section 12 procedure can apply only where the defendant has been served with the information about the charge and the evidence against him. Where there is reason to do so, clause 24 allows the court, relevant prosecutor, or police to decide not to apply the procedure whereby a defendant pleads guilty and is convicted in their absence, so that they are brought before the court to enter a plea.