Mention Hearings at the Magistrates’ Court
The article Mention Hearings at the Magistrates’ Court 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.
If you have been charged with a summary criminal offence, you will be summonsed, bailed or remanded to a Mention date at the Magistrates’ Court in Victoria. If you are charged with an indictable offence that can be heard summarily by the Magistrates’ Court your matter will also be listed for Mention, which is the first listing of any criminal matter proceeding through the Magistrates’ Court.
What is a Mention Hearing?
If your criminal matter is listed for a Mention you might be wondering what that means. There is no simple answer to this question as there are many things that can occur during a Mention hearing. They can include:
- It allows for your defence lawyer to have preliminary discussions with prosecutions about the issues with the charges with the aim of trying to resolve the matter;
- Gathering information from prosecutors as to how they intend to proceed with the case;
- Pleading guilty to the charge/s and being sentenced;
- Getting a sentence indication from a magistrate on the sentence they are likely to impose if you plead guilty;
- Booking your case in for a contest mention if you dispute the charges;
- booking your case in for a plea of guilty if more time is needed to gather mitigating material to lead to a better outcome.
A good way to think about a Mention Hearing is it is an opportunity for your lawyer to discuss the issues of your case with prosecutors in an attempt to try to resolve your case. If the matter is unable to resolve, the issues can be canvassed with prosecutors and the court. A magistrate will usually ask you or your lawyer, at the start of a hearing, what is happening with your matter. If the court has the time to finalise your matter, and if this is what you want, it can.
Below we answer some commonly asked questions from our clients
Can I plead guilty at a Mention Hearing?
If you are prepared to plead guilty, then it is possible to enter a plea of guilty during a Mention Hearing. The plea will follow the regular process where you enter a formal plea of guilty to the charge or charges, the prosecution will read the prosecution summary of offending, any criminal history will be admitted and your lawyer will make plea submissions on your behalf. It is best to discuss with a lawyer whether you should finalise your matter at the Mention stage before you do so. A lawyer will be able to tell you about the pros and cons of finalising your case early and can appear on behalf of you.
Do I have to go to Court?
It is always best practice to go to court when your case is listed. If you are on bail then you risk having a warrant issued for your arrest if you do not turn up. If you are remanded then the court will organise for you to attend court, usually via a videolink.
If you think you have a legitimate reason for not going to court then it is possible to apply to the court to have your matter adjourned before the hearing date. Your lawyer will be able to do this for you. For example, if you have only just engaged a lawyer and they need more time to prepare your case before it goes to court then they can apply for an administrative adjournment. You’re unlikely to get an adjournment ahead of your court date if you have more personal reasons, such as needing to go to work, for wanting the adjournment. The court expects that you prioritise your court matters and it is rare that an adjournment would be granted for this type of reason.
Do I still have to go to a Mention hearing if I know I am pleading not guilty?
The court will want to know what is going on with your matter, and they will not know you intend to plead not guilty until you tell them. A mention hearing is an opportunity for you to tell the court what is going on with your matter. If you tell the court that you are pleading not guilty, then it will put your case into a different stream of the court and be listed for a Contest Mention.
What is the difference between a Mention and a Contest Mention?
A mention hearing is aimed at progressing matters along, and at times means matters can be finalised or booked in for a plea. It is generally where cases that are expected to resolve to a plea of guilty will remain. By contrast, a contest mention is a hearing for matters where the accused person is pleading not guilty. At a contest mention, the court will want to find out details on what is happening with your case including:
- How long a contest hearing will take;
- How many witnesses will be in the hearing;
- Identifying what is disputed between parties and what evidence is going to be called;
- Check that you are represented;
- Make orders for filing of any expert material.
If you are contesting your matter, you must attend every contest mention.
I don’t have any paperwork, how do I know what this Court date will be about?
There are several ways you can find out what your court hearing is about ahead of time. You can ask either the court or the prosecution to forward you the paperwork that relates to your case. Your lawyer can find out this information for you. It is important to remember that the police must have documentation available at the first mention hearing of your matter. They must provide:
- Either a preliminary brief, full brief or a charge sheet and statement of alleged facts;
- A copy of your criminal record, if you have one, or a statement indicating you have no known prior convictions.
This documentation must be provided by the informant who is the police officer that is in charge of investigating your case.
Why are there so many other people at my Mention Hearing?
The court lists Mention hearings in what is called a ‘block’ list. That means it is not just your matter being heard. The magistrates’ court is the busiest court in Victoria- in the 2018-19 period it heard 660,000 cases that related to criminal matters.
You won’t have a specific time where your matter is listed. Instead you will receive a start time where the block list starts and an end time. Your matter could be called on by the magistrate at any time during this period so it is important to keep that in mind where you are planning your day around court.
I don’t have a lawyer but my case is listed for Mention soon, what do I do?
It is always best to have a lawyer represent you if you have been charged with criminal offences. Our firm of criminal defence lawyers are used to coming into matters at the last minute. It is never too late to engage a lawyer and you should if you have court dates coming up. It is also possible to appear in court yourself and ask for an adjournment to give you more time to engage a lawyer.
Our expert criminal lawyers can help you with your upcoming court matters and give you expert advice on your case.