If you find yourself charged with any offence within the NSW legal system, regardless of severity, you will experience a court mention. A court mention simply refers to when your matter is ‘mentioned’ in court.
Upon receiving a court attendance notice, you should seek legal advice to assist you throughout the court process and ensure you are adequately prepared for your first court mention.
A ‘mention’ includes the first time your matter will be heard before the courts and occurs before your charges are formally listed for a sentence (Plea of ‘guilty’) or Hearing (Plea of ‘not guilty’). This primarily serves the purpose of determining the accused plea to the offence.
What happens at a mention?
When you appear in court for your mention, your matter will be heard before a magistrate in the local court.
At the mention, you can either plead guilty, not guilty or request an adjournment to seek further legal advice or to receive service of the Brief of Evidence if your matter is eventually going to be determined in the District Court.
If you have yet to obtain legal representation, you can indicate this to the magistrate as a reason for adjourning. If granted, this provides you with the time to receive proper legal advice before entering a plea.
Court Attendance Notice
If you have been charged with an offence and are to have court mentions, you will be issued a Court Attendance Notice (CAN) outlining the details of the criminal matter and when you will attend court. This will specify the time and date of your mention and what court your matter will be heard at. You can check the NSW Courts Online Registry if you are unsure where and/or when your matter is listed for mention.
When Attending Court
It is highly important that either you or your lawyer attend your court mention. If you, or your lawyer, fail to show up for court, the case could be decided in your absence. If you are on bail, it will likely be a condition for you to physically attend your court mention.
When attending court, it is recommended you arrive half an hour early to give you time to find your courtroom. If you are running late, it is necessary for you to ring to inform the court registry; otherwise, your matter may be decided without you.
Whenever you appear in court, you must follow proper court etiquette and dress appropriately. Usually, smart casual or business wear is advised.
Should I plead guilty or not guilty?
The decision on whether to plead guilty or not guilty depends entirely on your case’s circumstances. It is integral you contact an experienced criminal lawyer, such as the team at Hamilton Janke lawyers, to provide expert legal advice before entering a plea.
If you enter a plea of ‘guilty’, you are presenting to the court that you agree with the allegations made against you and that you have committed the offences.
If you know you are guilty of the offence and wish to enter a guilty plea, it is highly advised you do this at the earliest opportunity to provide the best possible outcome at sentencing. An early plea can result in a mitigated sentence, with a maximum sentencing discount of 25%.
However, it is integral that you are aware of the implications of entering a guilty plea and are only doing so because you have committed the elements of the offence. If you enter a guilty plea for any other reasons, this can hinder you from achieving justice, as pleas of guilty are very difficult to reverse.
Pleading Not Guilty
If you disagree with the allegations made against you, or you have a legal or factual defence, you can enter a plea of ‘not guilty’. This can allow you and your legal team to present your defence and have the elements of your case tried before either a Magistrate or a Judge and Jury.
If you enter a plea of not guilty, you will not be found guilty unless the prosecution can prove the elements of your case beyond a reasonable doubt further along in the proceedings.
How should I prepare for a court mention?
You must be prepared before your first mention in court to receive the best possible outcome. If you are asking for an adjournment due to your circumstances, the court will require documentation and evidence of this. Before attending court, you must be informed and understand the allegations made against you, how you choose to plea, or whether you are seeking an adjournment.
What happens next?
After Pleading Guilty
If you have chosen to plead guilty, the matter will progress to sentencing, in which your penalty will be determined based on the circumstances of your case. In less serious matters, sentencing may occur on the same day as your court mention; however, you can request an adjournment if you need to gather documents such as character references that you wish to be taken into account in determining an appropriate penalty.
If you enter a guilty plea for a more serious offence, the magistrate will commit the matter to the district or supreme court for sentencing.
After Pleading Not Guilty
If you choose to enter a plea of not guilty, your case will either proceed to a hearing in the local court or a trial in a higher court. Following a not-guilty plea, the prosecution must serve the defendant a copy of the brief of evidence 14 days before the hearing date.
At the hearing, the prosecution and defence can call and cross-examine witnesses as well as enter any evidence relevant to their case. In the local court, the magistrate decides the guilt of the accused, dependent on whether the prosecution has proved the defendant to have committed the elements of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you choose to plead not guilty for a more serious matter, the matter will be heard at a committal hearing before the case proceeds to trial. Once the case proceeds to trial, the prosecution and defence both present their case before 12 jurors to determine the guilt of the accused.
If you are granted an adjournment, you will receive a later court date for your case to be mentioned, and at that later date, either you or your lawyer can enter your plea.