What’s the Difference Between a Trial and a Hearing?

A hearing is usually shorter and often less formal than a trial but there are some essential differences you should be aware of, especially if you have an upcoming Court date. A hearing can usually determines procedural matters before going to trial. During a trial, both parties present evidence and arguments for the Judge to use in making a final decision. Throughout this article, we will define what a hearing and trial are and some key differences.

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A hearing is part of the Court process in Australia. In criminal law, it refers to the determination of a charge before a magistrate. The case will be called into the courtroom and the charges are usually read out to the defendant. The defendant is then asked to plead guilty or not guilty. What happens next depends on the plea. A committal hearing refers to a preliminary hearing, before a magistrate, to see whether a more serious charge should go to a higher court (such as the District or Supreme Courts). In some cases, witnesses may be required to give evidence at a committal hearing. If the matter does go to a higher court, a trial will be conducted before a Judge and jury. In lower courts, a trial is usually called a “hearing” and is heard before a Magistrate.

In civil matters, a hearing is the Court proceedings that occur prior to a trial taking place. These are known as ‘directions hearings’. Here, the Judge will decide what the next steps are and how evidence and other Court documents are to be prepared to be presented at trial. Judges also often provide a timetable here where certain documents needs to be resolved by. If you need to determine any other issues before you go to trial, a notice of motion can be filed. This issue will then be decided at a hearing. This could be something as simple as seeking leave to file a subpoena past the deadline, or where an unforeseen situation arises where the case cannot continue.


A trial is a hearing in a court where all evidence is heard and a final decision will be made. The majority of trials of serious or indictable offenses are held in the District Court, with the most serious proceeding to the Supreme Court. At the trial, the accused may be tried by a judge alone or by judge and jury. The purpose of the trial is to present all relevant admissible evidence to the court. The jury will decide the guilt or innocence of the accused person.

How do they differ?

Unlike hearings, trials can go for weeks (and even months) at a time. Most hearings go for a couple of hours or even as little as a few minutes. In a trial a jury is empanelled in criminal cases to make the ultimate decision as to whether you are guilty or not guilty. At the end of the evidence of the trial, both sides are allowed to address the jury, arguing how they should interpret the evidence. In civil cases, a Judge presides over the trial and makes the final decision.

Final Thoughts

Hearings and trials are both integral in the justice process. Hearings tend to occur earlier on. Trials are where the case itself is decided and a final judgment is made. Most cases will go through a number of directions hearings before they proceed to a final trial. If you’re still looking for legal representation or have any other questions, you can speak to one of our expert lawyers today.

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