Before the accused is arraigned at the District or Supreme Court, an officer of the court is deputed to look upon the evidence to see if it is sufficient in form and in substance to support an indictment.
The Magistrate will not decide if the evidence presented is sufficient to convict the accused. He will decide if it is enough for a jury to be able to render a verdict.
At a committal hearing, the Magistrate will not pass upon the question of whether the evidence of the prosecution will be acceptable to the court. The Magistrate will not even pass upon the value of the evidence – that is, if it is of such quality that it can prove that fact which it seeks to prove. The Magistrate will only look to see if the evidence presented proves the allegations in the indictment. That is, if the elements of the crime can be proved from the evidence adduced.
As the committal hearing is mere to pass upon the initial sufficiency of the evidence, the defendant is not required to put up a defence. He is not obliged to present his own evidence. The only benefit that a defendant may have from a committal hearing is that he can see the totality of the evidence that the prosecution intends to present in court so he can prepare his defence.
Just as a defendant is not required to give evidence at a committal hearing, the defendant does not even need to attend a committal hearing. If the defendant is represented by a lawyer, if he is out on bail and is not in violation of his bail, and if the evidence presented against him consists of written statements of the witnesses, the Magistrate need not even require the defendant to attend the hearing. He can pass upon the sufficiency of the evidence on the basis of the documents presented before him.
It is the Magistrate who conducts a committal hearing. When he sits at a committal hearing, he is not sitting as a court or a judge. He is an administrative officer authorized by the court to pass upon the sufficiency of the evidence so that only those cases which have sufficient evidence need be heard in court.
Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.