Last updated 20 July 2016

Resolving matters without going to court

A police officer may issue an infringement notice that requires a defendant to pay a fine, for example for liquor and public nuisance charges. A defendant who wishes to contest the fine may be able to send the charge to a court, but will not otherwise need to appear.

It is also possible for a defendant summoned to court to plead guilty online or in writing to some minor charges. Legal advice should always be sought before deciding to plead guilty.

Bringing the defendant before court

A defendant must be brought before a court before any proceedings can properly commence. This can be done in four ways:

  • notice to appear
  • complaint and summons
  • arrest with a warrant
  • arrest without a warrant having been issued.

Notice to appear

This is the most efficient way police can commence prosecutions where there are no perceived bail risks. For further information on the issuing of notices to appear see the Arrest and Interrogation chapter.

Complaint and summons

Complaint and summons were used by police prior to the advent of notices to appear. They are often used for traffic violations, taxation offences and breaches of local government provisions. A summons may be issued by a justice of the peace upon a complaint that a person is suspected of having committed an offence (s 53 Justices Act 1886 (Qld) (Justices Act)). The summons will set out the nature of the offence, the date on which the matter will be heard and details of the court that will hear the charge (s 54 Justices Act).

A summons can be served on the defendant personally, but in respect of summary offences, it is more often delivered or sent by registered post to the last known place of business or residence of the defendant. In the case of traffic violations, these details can be obtained from licence or registration details kept by the Department of Transport and Main Roads. Proof of service of the summons is necessary should a defendant not appear as required (s 56 Justices Act).


A warrant is similar to a complaint and summons, except that it also authorises the police to arrest the defendant. A court or a justice, on application by a police officer, may issue a warrant instead of a summons if satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting the person has committed an offence. If the offence is not an indictable offence, the application for a warrant must show that alternative methods to require appearance would be ineffective (s 371 Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld) (PPR Act)). Some relevant considerations would include the seriousness of the offence or a real concern that the defendant may abscond if they are issued with a summons or notice to appear perhaps based on the person’s bail history.

Once a warrant is issued, the police have the power to arrest the defendant and are required to bring the person before a court as soon as reasonably practicable (s 393 PPR Act), namely on the same or the next court sitting day.

For further information about arrest without a warrant, see the Arrest and Interrogation chapter.