Understanding Mentions, Conferences, & Defence Counsel’s RoleJun 07, 2023
Mentions & Pre-trial Conferences
Mentions usually take place concurrently while investigations are being carried out. They are usually heard before a Magistrate sitting in the Mentions Court. If the Accused is arrested, his first mention will be within 48 hours. If he is not, his first mention may be held any time before he is formally charged.
Adjournments are common in the Mentions Court. Adjournments can be made for the following reasons:
- If investigations are not finished or if the Prosecution is not ready to file charges, the Prosecution may seek adjournments.
- If the Accused needs time to engage a Defence Counsel, otherwise known as a criminal lawyer, or to make representations, he may also seek adjournments.
- If the Defence Counsel also needs time to take instructions from the Accused or to make representations, he may also seek adjournments.
Once investigations are finished and the Prosecution is ready to file charges, there will be one mention where the Accused will need to appear in court. If either the Accused and the Defence Counsel are not ready, they may seek adjournments.
Once all parties are ready, the Accused will elect to take a course of action. He can choose to plead guilty to the charges if he admits to committing the offences, or claim trial if he contests the charges: see under “Pleading Guilty” and “Criminal Trials”.
If the Accused pleads guilty, the Magistrate sitting at the Mentions Court may choose to convict and sentence him. This commonly happens for the regulatory offences or when the Accused is unrepresented and does not wish to submit a formal mitigation plea. Otherwise, the Magistrate may transfer the matter to another court to take the Accused’s plea of guilt.
However, even if the Accused elects to plead guilty, parties may still not be ready to go for a guilty plea mention. If so, parties may request that the matter be transferred to a pre-trial conference.
If the Accused claims trial, the matter will be transferred to a pre-trial conference as well.
The pre-trial conference (PTC) is an administrative hearing before an Assistant Registrar. Assistant Registrars are usually District Judges or Magistrates who sit in such PTCs to handle the administrative matters of the case before it goes to either a guilty plea hearing or trial.
Matters dealt with at PTCs are broad. They may include:
- Setting deadlines for parties to be ready for hearing.
- Monitoring of production of third-party reports, e.g. medical, psychiatric reports etc.
- Fixing a hearing date for guilty pleas or trial.
At the PTCs, the matter is usually by then assigned from the Police to the DPPs. From this stage onwards, the DPPs will take over conduct of the matter.
Once all parties are ready for the hearing, the Registrar will proceed to fix a date for the hearing and give subsequent deadlines for the filing of hearing documents, e.g. trial bundles, mitigation plea, etc.
The value of the Defence Counsel in mentions and pre-trial conferences
In mentions and pre-trial conferences, the Defence Counsel may request for the Accused’s attendance to be dispensed with, i.e., the Accused will not need to attend the Mentions Court as the Defence Counsel will attend on his behalf. If the Accused is unrepresented, he will have to attend every single mention by himself.
For such administrative hearings, the Defence Counsel is invaluable as an advisor and guide through the whole process. He is familiar with the legal terms and process, and can put the Accused’s mind at ease.