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Starting criminal proceedings

This page explains how and when the criminal proceeding commences.

If police (or other authorised officer) suspects that a person has been involved in a criminal offence they may issue:

  • notice to appear
  • charge and summons, or
  • arrest and bail (charge-sheet filed with the bail justice).

It is the filing of the charge-sheet in the court registry that officially commences proceedings.

Notice to appear

This tells the person that they have to go to court on a particular date and gives the name of the informant. The informant is the name given for the person who issued the notice. It is usually a police officer, but it could be some other authorised person such as a local council officer. At this stage the person has not been charged with any offence and so criminal proceedings have not started.

The court hearing date must be at least 28 days from the time that the notice to appear is served.

For an example of a notice to appear see—Forms.


A charge is the formal allegation by the informant that an accused person has committed an offence.

A charge-sheet is a document that is signed by the informant that lists the charge(s) and is formally filed in court. At this point the person who is alleged to have committed the offence becomes 'the accused'.

The filing must be done within the time limits or the court does not have Jurisdiction to hear the matter.

See Time limits for summary crime and Errors in charge-sheet.

To download examples, see Examples of charge sheet and charge and summons.

Summons or warrant?


A summons is a formal document that directs the accused person to attend court. When the informant files the charge-sheet at court they usually also apply to the court asking the Registrar to issue either a summons or a warrant for arrest. An application for a summons can be made on behalf of the informant by another officer.

The Registrar will issue a summons if they are satisfied that the charge contains an offence that is known to law.

See s. 12—Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic)(opens in a new window).


An informant must apply to the court registry in person for a warrant to be issued. The Registrar cannot issue a warrant unless they are satisfied by sworn evidence from the informant (affidavit or oral) that the accused person:

  • is unlikely to come to court without being arrested
  • is trying to avoid being served
  • has previously absconded (not attended court when required)
  • was charged on summons for the offence but did not come to court, or
  • has been remanded in custody.

A warrant may also be issued if the accused person does not attend court when they are required to or if a warrant is required to be served because of the particular offence.

See s. 12(5)—Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

More information


Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic)

  • s. 5—how criminal proceedings are commenced
  • s. 6—commencement of a criminal proceeding in the Magistrates' Court
  • s. 12—summons or warrant to arrest
  • s. 12(5)—when a Registrar or Magistrate may issue a warrant
  • s. 14—police or public official may issue a summons
  • s. 15—explains what has to be included in a summons

See Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

See also Criminal Procedure Act 2009—Schedule 1—Charges on a charge sheet or indictment(opens in a new window).

Magistrates' Court Act 1989 (Vic)

  • Part 2—explains any special requirements for matters that are to be heard in the specialist divisions of the Magistrates' Court, such as the Family Violence Court, or Koori Court divisions.

See Magistrates' Court Act 1989 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Magistrates' Court Criminal Procedure Rules 2019 (Vic)

  • r. 13—prescribed forms for commencing a criminal proceeding

See Magistrates' Court Criminal Procedure Rules 2019 (Vic)(opens in a new window).


Judicial College of Victoria—Victorian Criminal Proceedings Manual

See Judicial College of Victoria—Victorian Criminal Proceedings Manual—Commencement of proceedings—2.8.1(opens in a new window).

Examples of charge sheet and charge and summons

Charge sheet (pdf, 53 KB)(opens in a new window)

Example of a charge sheet that details the charges against them and the law that they have broken.

Charge sheet and summons (pdf, 69 KB)(opens in a new window)

This document explains the charges that have been laid against the accused and informs the accused where the matter will be heard.