Committal Mention Hearings
The article Committal Mention Hearings is written by Josie Giarrusso, Lawyer, Doogue + George Defence Lawyers.
Josie Giarrusso was admitted to legal practice in November 2020 after completing a Juris Doctor at the University of Melbourne. She was a Judge’s Associate at the County Court of Victoria for two years before she became a lawyer of Doogue + George.
Whilst an Associate, Josie worked exclusively in the field of criminal law, dealing with matters such as pleas, jury trials, and appeals. She also volunteered for the Human Rights Law Network (India), Victoria Legal Aid, Refugee Legal, and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
A committal mention hearing is one of the first hearings you will need to attend if you have been charged with an indictable offence and there is a potential for your case to go to a jury trial. Your case will be in the committal stream of the Magistrates’ Court if:
- You have not been charged via a direct indictment; or
- Your case is not being heard summarily in the Magistrates’ Court
A committal mention hearing is a way for the Magistrates’ Court to progress your case. Your case will be progressed depending on what you want to do. You will most likely be required to attend a Committal Mention hearing soon after you have been charged with an indictable offence.
What can happen at a committal mention hearing?
There are several directions which a committal mention hearing can take. A magistrate can:
- Make a decision on whether your case can be committed for trial;
- Allow you to make an application for your case to be heard summarily (by a Magistrate);
- Grant leave for witnesses to be cross-examined at a committal hearing;
- Set a date for a committal hearing;
- Make a decision on legal applications about disclosing material;
Can my case be committed for trial at a Committal Mention?
It is possible for your case to be committed for trial at a Committal Mention hearing without the need for a Committal Proceeding. This will mean your case is proceeding by way of ‘straight hand up brief’ and you are waiving your right to a contested committal.
You will need to tell the Court that you want your matter to go straight to a trial ahead of the Committal Mention. You can do this by filing a Form with the court that will let them know this is occurring.
Will the Magistrate want a lot of details about my case?
A magistrate will need to be informed about your case to make any decision necessary to progress it. For example, a magistrate will want to know the nature of the evidence and perhaps some information about you, such as whether you have a prior criminal history, to decide if your case can remain in the Magistrates’ Court. A magistrate will also want to know about the nature and strength of the evidence in determining whether your case can be committed for trial or requires a committal proceeding where witnesses would be called.
What does it mean if my case can be heard summarily?
If the magistrate says your case can be heard summarily, this means you can choose to keep it in the magistrates’ court rather than uplifting it to the County or Supreme Court. The benefits of this are that a Magistrate is limited in their sentencing power and you have an automatic right of appeal if you believe the penalty is too severe.
You can apply for summary jurisdiction during a Committal Mention. It may be more likely your application is granted if you have negotiated with the prosecution and some charges will be dropped. This means your hearing will be determined by a magistrate rather than a jury or a judge. There are pros and cons with keeping your case in the Magistrates’ court and you should discuss these factors with your lawyer before you make a decision about how you want it to be heard.
Why does a magistrate need to give permission for me to ask a witness questions?
It is important to remember that a committal proceeding is not the same as a trial and you can only call witnesses with the permission of the court. This will occur at the Committal Mention. You and your lawyer should think carefully about which witnesses you want to call for a committal hearing. In applying for leave to cross examine a witness you need to:
- Identify an issue to which the proposed questioning of the witness relates; and
- Provide a reason to the court about why the evidence of the witness is relevant to that issue
For example, you and your lawyer might identify alibi as being an issue and want to call witnesses who can give evidence about this.
The court also needs to take other considerations when determining whether a witness can be cross-examined including:
- Whether the issues are adequately defined;
- Trivial, vexatious or oppressive cross-examination is not permitted;
- The strength of the evidence;
- Whether a fair trial will take place and you are able to properly prepare any defence;
- As well as other considerations
The court needs to know ahead of time that you will be applying for leave to cross-examine witnesses. This is done via a Form that you or your lawyer file with the court that briefly outlines the witnesses you want to cross-examine and why. The magistrate will then ask any questions relevant to the application at the Committal Mention. Making these applications at the Committal Mention stage ensures that no time is wasted during the substantive committal.
When will my case be listed for a committal mention?
After the filing hearing, your case will be listed for case conference. If you have been charged with a sexual offence, your case must be listed for a committal mention within three months of the commencement of the criminal proceeding. For any other offence, your case must be listed for committal mention within six months. If your case has not been listed for a committal mention within these time periods, it is possible for you to apply to the court to be discharged of the offences.
Can I plead guilty at a Committal Mention?
You can plead guilty to charges at the Committal Mention stage. This may occur after negotiating with the prosecution or you can accept all charges and plead guilty. Your matter will then be booked into a plea. Depending on the charges, your lawyer may apply for your case to remain in the Magistrates’ Court and be heard summarily.
The court will not hear your plea at the Committal Mention stage and will adjourn it for a plea at either the Magistrates’, County, or Supreme Court.
Do I need a lawyer if my case has been listed for a Committal Mention?
It is always best to have a lawyer represent you and help ensure that you receive a fair trial. If your case is listed for a Committal Mention, chances are you have been charged with some serious offences. There may also be some complex legal issues that a lawyer will be able to help you sort out. A lawyer will help you manage your case, identify any weak charges, analyse the evidence and represent you in court. Going to court can be daunting and stressful- a lawyer can assist you in alleviating some of the stress by being there for you.
We regularly appear on behalf of our clients at Committal Mention hearings. We have a strong trial practice. If you are in need of legal assistance for criminal charges, get in touch with us and one of our expert criminal lawyers can assist you. Remember that you do not need to go through this process alone.