If you’re facing criminal charges in Ontario, it’s important to understand the court procedures that will apply to your case. In this article, Robichaud Law provides expert legal advice and answers to frequently asked questions about Ontario’s criminal court procedures.

Understanding Ontario’s Criminal Court Procedures

criminal court procedures in ontario

Navigating the criminal court system in Ontario can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not familiar with the rules and procedures. Making the wrong decision could have serious legal consequences. Fortunately, the lawyers at Robichaud’s can provide guidance through every step of the process, from suspicion to trial and even appeal.


Below is a simplified overview of the court procedures and rules in the Ontario Court of Justice and Superior Court of Justice. It’s important to note that this information is not legal advice, and court procedures can vary by jurisdiction. If you have specific questions about your legal situation, it’s best to contact a lawyer for guidance.

Learn more about Ontario criminal court procedures by following the links below:

Have you ever wondered about when someone can be detained, arrested, and charged under Canadian criminal law? And if someone is arrested, what are the police’s rights to hold them for bail? The information below provides a general overview of detention, arrest, and criminal charges under Canadian criminal law.

Detention vs. Arrest

Not every police detention is an arrest. In some circumstances, police may detain someone if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person is involved in a recent or ongoing criminal activity as a suspect. This type of detention is called an “investigative detention,” and it should be brief and minimally intrusive. Regardless of whether someone is detained for investigative detention or under arrest, they have the right to counsel and the ability to contact a lawyer, as stated in section 9 and 10(a) and (b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Arrest Powers

A person may be arrested with or without a warrant. For a warrantless arrest to be legal, the person making the arrest must find someone committing a criminal offense or believe on reasonable grounds that the person has committed a criminal offense and is escaping from those legally entitled to arrest them. This applies to all persons and is often referred to as a “citizen’s arrest.” In making any such arrest, the citizen is required by law to deliver the arrestee to a police officer immediately.

Police officers’ arrest powers are more broad and apply to all persons, as found under s.495(1) C.C.C. They may arrest anyone who has committed an indictable (more serious) criminal offense, anyone who they believe is about to commit an indictable offense, anyone they find committing a criminal offense, and anyone with an outstanding warrant. There are, of course, limitations to these powers, as set out in greater detail in s. 495(2) C.C.C.

Criminal Charges and Issuing Process

When police decide to criminally charge someone, a peace officer must attend before a justice of the peace or judge and swear an “information” that sets out the particulars of the offense. This document becomes the formal document that will appear before the court and follows the accused throughout the process until the charges are disposed of, the information is replaced, or an indictment is filed in more serious cases.

Keep in mind that the explanations above are oversimplified processes of Canadian criminal procedure. To understand these processes in greater detail and the remedies available if certain rules and laws are not followed, contact an experienced criminal lawyer who can analyze the particulars of your individual case. Contact one of our lawyers today at (416) 999-8389 to schedule an initial consultation.

When someone is charged with a criminal offence, the police have the power to release the accused person with or without certain conditions. There are three forms of release that can be given:

Appearance Notice (also known as form 9): This is a notification given by a peace officer that tells the accused person when they must appear in court and when they need to attend for fingerprinting. If the offence is serious, the officer cannot release the person on a form 9.

Promise to Appear (also known as form 10): This is similar to an appearance notice but can be given by any peace officer, not just the ones involved at the scene. It can be given after the accused person has been processed and formally charged. The police have more discretion to release someone on a promise to appear, as long as the maximum penalty for the offence does not exceed 5 years.

Undertaking Given to a Peace Officer or Officer in Charge (also known as form 11.1): This form is given with a promise to appear and includes conditions that are more like bail terms. These conditions may include restrictions on the person’s ability to go to certain places, requirements to refrain from specific acts, and instructions to deposit a passport. It may also require the person to pledge money as security for their release. If the person does not live in the area of the offence, they may have to pay the deposit in cash. If the accused person agrees to the terms of the undertaking and is released, they may want to have the terms changed. They can apply to have their conditions varied under section 499(3) of the Criminal Code.

If the accused person breaches any of the above forms of release, they may be charged under sections 145(5) and (6) of the Criminal Code by way of summary conviction or by indictment.

A bail hearing is a critical day in court for anyone who is held in custody after an arrest. If an accused person is denied bail, they will remain in custody until their appeal is heard or until their case is resolved by trial or plea. Since trials can take several months, it is crucial that someone who has been arrested and is waiting for a bail hearing does everything possible to secure their release. This includes retaining an experienced criminal lawyer to represent them at their hearing. Most criminal lawyers, such as those at Robichaud’s, are available 24/7 for emergencies.

Section 515 of the Criminal Code of Canada covers most of the procedures involved in bail hearings. When considering an accused person’s eligibility for bail, the court must determine who bears the burden of persuasion. Typically, the prosecutor must “show cause” why the accused should be held in custody pending trial, but there are situations where the accused must demonstrate why they should be released. Section 515(10) of the Criminal Code sets out the “primary,” “secondary,” and “tertiary” grounds on which a person’s detention may be justified.

The primary ground is in place to ensure that an accused person attends court and does not flee the jurisdiction. The secondary ground assesses the risk of reoffending or tampering with evidence if the person is released. The tertiary ground is used in cases where an accused person’s detention is necessary to maintain confidence in the administration of justice.

When a person is granted bail, they are either released on their own promise of good behaviour, or to the care and responsibility of a surety who pledges a certain amount of money or security. The surety can stand to lose this amount if the person breaches the conditions of their bail.

For those charged with a crime in Ontario, the first day in criminal court is typically an administrative proceeding. It is not a trial or a significant appearance that requires a person to fully defend themselves. While it is beneficial to have a criminal defense lawyer present, it is not necessary.

On the first day, the accused appears before a Justice of the Peace and is informed of the charges. The charges may be read out if requested. The court will ask if the accused has counsel or intends to seek counsel and if they have sought assistance from Legal Aid Ontario. The Crown Attorney may provide an initial package of disclosure and indicate how they intend to proceed.

The case is then adjourned for the accused to retain a lawyer if they wish and for further procedural steps, such as a resolution meeting or judicial pre-trial. This system allows the accused to obtain disclosure before meeting with lawyers and deciding who is best suited to represent them for their particular criminal charges.

In Canada, when a person is charged with a criminal offence, they have the right to disclosure, which is information in police and Crown possession that may be used to further the prosecution. The person charged has the same right to evidence as the person prosecuting it, except for limited exceptions such as privilege, complete irrelevancy, or if the material is not in the possession of the Crown or police prosecuting the matter. The leading case on disclosure in Canada is R. v. Stinchcombe, and since then, the law on disclosure has become a highly technical and complicated area of jurisprudence.

There are also limits to disclosure in cases of sexual offences and highly sensitive material, such as therapeutic records. However, there are ways to obtain this non-disclosed material through court applications framed as “third party records” applications, which can be complicated. In some cases, the prosecutor may only release the material to a lawyer who provides an undertaking to store and use it in a limited manner. It is recommended to retain an experienced criminal defence lawyer to obtain this information.

Disclosure is typically provided on the first appearance in criminal court at no cost, but if it is lost, a copying fee may be required. Disclosure includes items such as police notes, witness statements, video or DVD statements or surveillance, pictures, forensic evidence, radio or 9-1-1 calls, and more. After receiving initial disclosure, it is recommended to retain a lawyer to review it and request any outstanding items from the Crown. It is important to keep the disclosure package safe and not let anyone else view it other than your lawyer.

When you receive your disclosure, there is often a “charge screening form” on the front of the package that sets out how the Crown intends to prosecute the charges. The Crown may proceed by way of summary conviction or by way of indictment, depending on the seriousness of the offence. The Crown’s position on sentence is also typically included on the charge screening form. There are often two positions taken on sentence, reflecting whether the person proceeds to trial or pleads guilty before doing so. The positions taken by the Crown are negotiable, and retaining a lawyer can help an accused ensure that the best deal possible is worked out, or in the event the matter proceeds to trial, does so in the most preferred manner by the accused.

Before a trial date is set, the Crown usually requires your lawyer to conduct a “Crown pre-trial” or a “Crown resolution meeting.” Unfortunately, if you don’t have a lawyer, the Crown Attorney will not meet with you directly to discuss the case. They typically insist that all conversations go through a lawyer that resolution discussions happen before a judge on special appearances designed specifically for unrepresented accused.

This is because many accused individuals are eager to explain their case and discuss the merits without realizing that what they say could be used against them later. It is always recommended that you have a lawyer discuss the case with the Crown to ensure that you don’t accidentally provide further evidence to assist the prosecution. The Crown resolution meeting is not “off the record” for unrepresented accused, and anything you say can and will be used against you, just like speaking to a police officer.

If you hire a lawyer to assist with the Crown resolution meeting, they will discuss various things with the Crown, such as what the Crown is seeking for a guilty plea, negotiations on a guilty plea, whether bail conditions can be changed, how long a trial will take, outstanding items in disclosure, what witnesses are required for trial, legal issues, potential constitutional arguments, and more.

After the meeting is complete, your lawyer will advise you on these issues and provide guidance on the best approach to the case moving forward.

A Judicial Pre-trial is similar to a Crown Resolution meeting, but it takes place before a judge in chambers or a closed court. The judge’s involvement can help narrow the issues and may convince a party to resolve the case if negotiations hit a deadlock. In some jurisdictions, a judicial pre-trial is mandatory when the court expects the case to take a significant amount of time.

During a judicial pre-trial, the accused is usually not allowed to attend, allowing the Crown and Defence counsel to have frank discussions about the case. The lawyer may make admissions or concessions on behalf of their client, but these are not binding until the client agrees to them. In some cases, the officer in charge of the investigation may be present, but they can be excused if their presence discourages open and honest discussions. All discussions between counsel and the judge are considered “off the record” to encourage open discussions.

Judicial pre-trials are helpful in negotiating a resolution agreement, as the judge can provide an objective opinion on a reasonable sentence. If a plea is accepted on the same day, the accused will know their sentence because the judge will express their opinion on an appropriate sentence.

In Canada, criminal charges are divided into three categories: summary conviction offences, indictable offences, and hybrid offences. Summary convictions are less serious, while indictable offences are the most serious. Hybrid offences can be proceeded by indictment or summary conviction at the Crown Attorney’s discretion.

Most criminal charges start in the Provincial Court, also known as the Ontario Court of Justice. The case may be elevated to the Superior Court depending on the nature of the offence or the Crown’s decision.

For most indictable offences, the accused has the right to conduct or waive a preliminary hearing before trial. The accused may also choose to proceed to trial in the Provincial Court without a preliminary hearing. If the accused chooses to go to the Superior Court, they may choose to be tried by a judge or a jury.

There are exceptions to these typical choices. Some offences are under the “absolute jurisdiction” of the Provincial Court, meaning the accused does not have the right to a preliminary hearing, jury trial, or a trial in the Superior Court. Other offences, including murder, treason, and terrorism, must be tried by a jury unless the Crown Attorney agrees to a judge-only trial.

In Canada, a preliminary hearing is available only for offences punishable by 14 imprisonment or more.

This hearing may serve two functions.

First, the court determines whether there is enough evidence for a person to stand trial for the alleged acts. The threshold required for a person to stand trial is very low, and the legal test is whether a jury, properly instructed and acting reasonably, could return a verdict of guilt based on the presented evidence. But the preliminary hearing judge has little jurisdiction to consider competing inferences that may establish innocence.

Second, a preliminary hearing has a discovery function. It allows all parties involved to better understand the case before trial. Witnesses testify under oath, opposing counsel can cross-examine them, and judges make rulings on the admissibility of evidence.

It’s worth noting that not every charge entitles a person to a preliminary hearing. Preliminary hearings are only applicable to cases that carry a possible penalty of 14 years imprisonment or more.

Criminal trials in Canada are highly complex and require years of specialized expertise to master. The process involves a lawyer’s knowledge of evidence, human behavior, examination skills, public speaking, tactical decision making, and intelligence. Trials can be unpredictable, stressful, and carry a high degree of risk for those inexperienced in the process.

It is essential for anyone facing criminal charges to retain a lawyer to assist with the trial process. Even those who are familiar with the criminal process, such as police officers, lawyers, and judges, have retained counsel when charged with criminal acts.

The Canadian criminal trial process is based on an adversarial system where a highly skilled Crown Attorney seeks to return a verdict of guilt. As a result, it is important to retain an equal adversary to defend against the Crown and their vast resources. Speaking with one of our criminal defence lawyers can help you understand the process and ensure that you are provided with the best defence possible.

After a trial, the judge must give a verdict of guilty or not guilty unless the Crown prosecutor withdraws the case or the charges are stayed by the Crown or the Court. The verdict may not be the same for all charges. For example, someone may be found guilty of one charge but not guilty of another. Additionally, the judge may find someone not guilty of the charge listed in the charging document but guilty of a lesser included offense. This means that someone could be found not guilty of sexual assault but guilty of the lesser charge of assault if the evidence supports it. The verdict can also be delivered by a jury.

If someone is found not guilty of a charge, that ends the matter for that charge unless the Crown appeals. If someone is acquitted of all their charges, any bail conditions attached to those charges will cease. However, if someone has other outstanding charges, then conditions attached to those charges will remain in place.

If someone is found guilty of all or some offenses, the matter then moves to sentencing. In some rare situations, the proceedings may be stayed if the defense of entrapment is made out.

In addition to guilty and not guilty verdicts, charges may also be “stayed,” which is similar to an acquittal or withdrawal of charges. However, in some cases, stays of proceedings can still affect immigration implications.

There are some basic principles of sentencing that the court must take into consideration. The sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. The court must also consider aggravating or mitigating circumstances relating to the offence or the offender, and the sentence should be similar to sentences imposed on similar offenders for similar offences committed in similar circumstances. Additionally, the court must consider factors such as evidence of bias, prejudice or hate, abuse of a spouse or a person under 18 years of age, abuse of a position of trust, association with a criminal organization, or committing a terrorism offence.

Sentencing is complicated, especially when it’s necessary to ensure that all positive factors are enhanced, and negative components are adequately explained. That’s why retaining a lawyer who is familiar with these principles and other unwritten practices is critical in ensuring that you receive the best possible sentence if you are convicted. You can contact our criminal lawyers at (416) 999-8389 for an immediate initial consultation.

If someone is found guilty of a criminal offense and disagrees with the verdict or sentence, they can ask for permission to appeal. It’s crucial to follow the timelines and rules closely when appealing a criminal conviction. Missing a filing deadline or failing to comply with the appeal rules can result in the appeal being dismissed without a hearing on the merits.

In Ontario, both the Court of Appeal and the Summary Conviction Court have strict procedural rules that must be strictly followed. If you want to learn more about appealing a criminal conviction or sentence, check out our page on Criminal Appeals in Ontario. Alternatively, you can call (416) 999-8389 to speak with one of our criminal lawyers and get an immediate initial consultation.


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