An impassive Trevor Mallard entered a not guilty plea when he appeared in the dock of Wellington District Court today to face a private assault prosecution.
View video: Mallard appears before court
The prosecution relates to the parliamentary bust-up in which the Cabinet Minister threw a punch at National MP Tau Henare in October after comments about his personal life.
Mr Mallard later apologised and Mr Henare said he would not take the matter further.
But Wellington accountant Graham McCready launched a private prosecution after police rejected an initial complaint, deeming he was not an interested party in the fracas.
The cabinet minister had to fight his way through a media scrum as he arrived.
Mr Mallard's lawyer, Robert Lithgow, today entered a not guilty plea on behalf of his client and asked to proceed with the full hearing immediately.
But Judge Thomas Broadmore said that would not be possible as time had not been set down for a substantive hearing today.
Mr Lithgow asked for a status hearing - where the prosecution will be expected to provide its evidence - as early as possible.
The hearing was set down for December 18, despite protests from Mr McCready's lawyer William Johnson.
Mr Mallard, who stood calmly in the dock throughout the five-minute proceeding, was granted remanded at large.
Outside the courtroom he offered no comment to the surrounding media throng, as he headed off down the street in the opposite direction from the Beehive, where he was excused from today's regular Cabinet meeting.
Mr McCready kept a low profile today at the back on the courtroom.
Mr McCready himself is defending a range of tax charges in Wellington District Court.
While Mr Mallard would not comment on the case, Prime Minister Helen Clark today said private prosecutions were a concern for public figures, who were often targeted.
"I just say that with something like this, I think everyone in public life - whether they are media personalities or a politician or whoever - we're all vulnerable to someone deciding they will try a private prosecution and I think that is an issue of some concern," she said on TVNZ's Breakfast programme.
Last month Mr Mallard apologised to Parliament for the fight in the lobby and Speaker Margaret Wilson said she would not ask the privileges committee to hear a complaint about it from ACT MP Rodney Hide.
Miss Clark punished Mr Mallard last month by moving him off the front bench and taking away his economic development, Rugby World Cup and sport portfolios.
Is John Banks' upcoming trial the end for the ACT party?Related story: Banks takes only viable option
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