Criminal Court Process

This brochure serves as a guide to understand the general process and keywords used in Criminal Court.

If the Police have good cause to believe that a person has violated the law, an Information will be filed with the Court and the person will be served with a Court Summons. In some cases the person will be arrested, and such persons may be placed on Bail.
In the first court appearance, the charge(s) will be read out against the defendant and the defendant can enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the charge(s) are serious (e.g. can result in jail time), then consulting a lawyer is advised before entering a plea. If a plea of guilty is entered, the defendant will be sentenced for the violation(s) of law. If a plea of not guilty is entered, the court will set a trial date. The defendant must ensure that he/she is prepared for trial on the date set by the Court.
If the defendant does not appear in Court at any set date/time, a bench warrant may be issued.

A defendant’s case may be adjourned from time to time at the discretion of the presiding Judge or Justice(s) of the Peace.
Depending on the charge, any Court hearings may be presided over by a Judge, Justice of the Peace, or a panel of three Justices of the Peace.
Before trial, a defendant who is facing serious charges may choose to have a Judge or Jury determine his/her guilt or innocence when the trial is completed.

Where a defendant is under the age of 16 years old, the Court may transfer the case to the Children’s Court.
Court hearings are generally open to the public and may be the subject of media publication. If the defendant believes that publication is likely to cause harm, then he/she may ask the Court for name suppression.
Once a case has been determined, regardless of whether the defendant was found guilty or innocent, there is a limited time in which the case may be appealed.


Information: Document(s) filed with the court identifying the defendant and the alleged violation(s) of law.

Court Summons: A document issued by the Court ordering the defendant to appear in Court on a specified date/time to answer to alleged violation(s) of law.

Arrest: Take a person into lawful custody. Persons in custody are normally brought before the Court within 48 hours of arrest.

Bail: Releasing an arrested defendant from custody to appear at their next Court hearing. Bail normally requires the defendant to give cash or a bond to ensure their next appearance at Court. Bail may come with conditions that the defendant must follow.
Depending on the circumstances, the Police may grant Bail, otherwise Bail is determined by
the Court.

Charge(s): The alleged violation(s) of law.

Defendant: The person being charged with violating the law.

Plea: A formal statement of guilt or innocence in response to a charge.

Lawyer: A Barrister and Solicitor registered to practice law in the Cook Islands. A defendant who has financiall difficulties may apply for legal aid by promptly submitting a completed legal aid form to the Registrar of the High Court.

Sentence: Declaration by the Court of the punishment for the violation of law. This may include fines, court fees, jail time, probation, reparation (e.g. payment for damage suffered by victims), and/or community service.

Trial: A Court hearing where evidence is given,
including any witness testimony, and the guilt or innocence of the defendant is determined.

Bench Warrant: A Court order to arrest the defendant to appear in Court.

Adjourned: The case is suspended and a new date/ time is set for the case to resume. A case can be adjourned for a call over, trial, or sentencing.

Call Over: A Court hearing set to determine any pre-trial matters and whether the case is ready to go to trial. Witnesses that would testify at trial are not normally required at a call over.

Jury: Twelve members of the public selected through a process overseen by a Judge. Jury members are chosen from a large pool of randomly selected persons who are eligible to vote in general elections.

Name Suppression: A Court order preventing the publication of the defendant’s name or identifying details.

Appeal: An application by either the Police or the defendant to a higher Court to reverse the decision of the case. Depending on the circumstances, the case being appealed may come before a Judge of the High Court or the Court of Appeal.


Any complaint against a Lawyer, Judge, Justice of the Peace, or Court Officer can be submitted to the Registrar of the High Court. Complaints against Lawyers and Judges are forwarded to the Chief Justice, while complaints against Justices of the Peace and Court Officers are initially forwarded to the Secretary of the Ministry of Justice.