The first mention date
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The defendant’s first day in court is called the ‘mention’ date, which they must not miss.
There are no witnesses at the first mention and the magistrate makes all decisions based on the information presented.
The first mention may proceed as follows:
- when the magistrate is ready, the depositions clerk calls the defendant into the courtroom
- the deposition clerk will call ‘all rise’ as the magistrate enters and sits at the bench
- the prosecutor then stands and reads out the charges against the defendant
- the magistrate asks the defendant ‘how do you plead, guilty or not guilty?’ and the defence lawyer (or the defendant) will stand and respond.
For simple offences, a defendant can do one of the following:
- ask the magistrate to adjourn the case and set a new date if the defendant requires more time to consider their plea
- plead guilty - the magistrate will then listen to the evidence and then decide on the penalty
- plead not guilty - the magistrate will then set a summary hearing.
A summary hearing gives both the defence and prosecution more time to arrange evidence and organise witnesses.
If the defendant pleads guilty to a minor indictable offence, the magistrate can decide the penalty at the first mention or will set a date for a sentence hearing.
For other indictable offences the magistrate will set a committal hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to send the defendant to trial in either the Supreme Court or District Court.
A magistrate may set other ‘mentions’ before a summary hearing to confirm each side has sufficient evidence, organised witnesses and the defendant has finalised their plea.