Stage 1 – Mention
All matters begin the Magistrates’ Court. Some matters begin as a filing hearing – then move to a Committal Mention – and then to a Committal Hearing, where it is determined whether the Accused will stand trial in a higher court. In 2018/19 over 660,000 criminal hearings took place in Victoria’s Magistrates’ Court’s.The vast majority of matters (about 90%), begin and end in the Magistrates’ Court and the first hearing for these matters is known as a Mention Hearing. At this stage, your matter is first ‘mentioned’ before the court and you are able to discuss your matter with the prosecution (called case conference). Your matter may resolve on the first day if you are pleading guilty or if the police are withdrawing the charges. If not, your matter may be adjourned for another Mention (e.g, to give you more time to get character references), or, it may be adjourned to a Contest Mention.
Stage 2 – Contest Mention
By the time your matter reaches this stage, it will have already had at least one Mention Hearing and negotiations will already have commenced with the prosecution. The Contest Mention provides the opportunity for further negotiation. It can also result in a Magistrate giving you a sentence indication – that is, telling you what your likely sentence will be if you plead guilty today. The Magistrate may also indicate to the prosecution that their prospects of success are low and that they ought to consider dropping one or more charges. If your matter does not resolve, then it is expected that the prosecution and defence will provide the court with details for the Contested Hearing, such as an estimate of time required, number of witnesses required and their availability etc.
Stage 3 – Contested Hearing
This is likely the final hearing for your case (although you may lodge an appeal) and very few cases make it this far. At the Contested Hearing, evidence is given, witnesses get in the witness box and ultimately, upon hearing the relevant evidence, the Magistrate makes a final decision.