by Wan Zafran Pawancheek
Published July 27, 2017
A ‘mention’ (or a ‘mention date’) is a litigant or his counsel’s first appearance in court.
By practice, the word ‘mention’ is merely a faux-formal name for a ‘first court appearance’. On the ‘mention date’, parties would attend court, wait until their case number is called, then go before (or ‘appear before’) the registrar or judge in their ‘chambers’ to receive ‘directions’ on what next to do and how to move forward with the suit.
I however have no idea how the term ‘mention’ came to be so used in our courts.
My personal suspicion: it derives from parliamentary practices, where a bill (a proposed law) generally won’t be debated during its first reading, but will only be ‘mentioned’ (i.e. its short title will be read out), and then scheduled for debate/its second reading at another date.
Mention appearances are significant, as:
they set the stage for the full-blown litigation to come; and
they are when parties obtain court directions on the filing of cause papers (such as defences or affidavits), give notice on intended applications, formalize requests, place on record preliminary objections, and the like.
Mentions are rarely contentious. Therefore many counsel retained for a matter won’t appear for mentions, especially when busy. They may instead send their juniors or ask opponents to appear on their behalf - this curious phenomenon being known as a ‘mention-on-behalf’.
(My far more learned friend, Mr. Fahri Azzat, had written about the phenomenon of ‘mentions’ and ‘mentions-on-behalf’ many moons ago – and he in fact now runs Malaysia’s de facto legal app for mentions, the aptly-named Locum Legalis. If curiosity on this point of civil procedure somehow possesses you, which of course it would, read the article to glean from his infinite wisdom.)
A litigant starts his journey in the civil court by filing his ‘cause papers’.
The papers will be ‘sealed’ - i.e. marked with the official seal/stamp of the Court.
A date will be scheduled on the sealed papers for the litigant or his counsel to ‘appear’ in court - for the ‘mention’.
During the mention appearance, parties will obtain directions from court. At the same time, it is not uncommon for the more psychologically-challenged counsel to try to size up or intimidate their opponents; the more learned types will instead use the opportunity to get to know their opponents over breakfast or tea, and to see if some ideal resolution can be worked out in the best interests of their clients.
All first appearances are automatically mentions, except in certain proceedings (such as for those seeking injunctions, which are often immediately hearings).
Most mentions are scheduled within a month’s time. But some mentions will be scheduled earlier - e.g. where certificates of urgency are filed - while some will by practice be delayed by months - e.g. in bankruptcy cases, where the Court prefers the procedural formalities to be sorted out first. All this depends on the nature of a proceeding.