The first day of court in a criminal matter in Ontario.

first day in criminal courtGenerally speaking, the first day of court in Ontario Court of Justice for criminal charges  is not your trial date – it is an administrative appearance for the purposes of understanding what the charges are, to obtain disclosure, and to advise the Court of your intentions in retaining a lawyer.
After a person is charged with a criminal offence, a person is either released by police unconditionally, released by police with conditions (an undertaking to a peace officer or officer in charge) or they are taken for a bail hearing where the person is released by the Court or held in custody.  After this has taken place, an accused person is provided a date in Court, typically known as a “first appearance” court date.

Some things needs to happen before your trial: disclosure, retaining a lawyer, meetings, and considerations.

On this initial appearance there are a number of events that are expected to happen: First, the Crown is expected to provide “disclosure” to the accused.  “Disclosure” is the evidence  the Crown and police have in their possession that they intend to rely upon to prosecute the case.  This assists the accused and the accused’s lawyer in better understanding the case against them so that they make informed decisions about how to proceed with the case.  Second, if the accused has retained a lawyer, that lawyer should attend to inform the Court that they are now prepared to go “on the record” as the individual’s counsel.  If the person does not have a lawyer, they are expected to  advise the Court of their intentions to do so, or whether they wish to represent themselves. 

Relax, you have time.  Don’t do anything until yo have spoken to a lawyer.

Although unusual, and likely an unwise decision at this early stage, It is possible that a person could have their charges traversed before a judge on the first appearance in Court to plead guilty if they so wished.   The reason that this would be unusual is because a person would typically want the assistance of counsel to thoroughly reviewed the disclosure, advise the client on the merits and weaknesses of the case, and to negotiate with the Crown to obtain  the best possible resolution in the circumstances (often referred to as a “plea bargain”).
Since all of these steps would be difficult to achieve on the first appearance, most counsel will seek to adjourn the matter to complete all these steps diligently and to obtain materials (such as job, reference, or doctors letters) that may assist in mitigating the sentence against the individual who wishes to plead guilty.  In Ontario, a person is not expected to enter a plea of “not-guilty” on the first appearance and is typically is not asked to do so until that individual is arraigned at the trial date.  It is very easy to change a plea of not-guilty to guilty; the converse is very difficult.

You case will be adjourned to a subsequent date.

Old City Hall Courthouse TorontoAfter the Court addresses the matter, and assuming the person does not want to plead guilty at this early stage, the case will be adjourned for several weeks so that the person charged may: a) review disclosure, or obtain disclosure on the next occasion if not already provided, b) retain and obtain advice from counsel, c) apply for Legal Aid if necessary, d) have their lawyer speak to the Crown Attorney about the case for the purpose of resolution or trial discussions, or, e) any other purpose that the situation may require.
To recap: unless a person intends to plead guilty immediately, the first day of Court is an administrative appearance – it is not a trial date.  No evidence is called, no plea is entered, and there is nothing to be overly concerned about.   Although not strictly necessary, obtaining legal counsel prior to this appearance is a very prudent action as they can assist in all aspects described above and can ensure that all of your rights are protected and your questions answered.
Here are a list of many of the “first appearance” Courts in the Greater Toronto area:
60 Queen St. W., Old City Hall, Toronto: Courtroom 111
444 Yonge St., College Park, Toronto: Courtroom 505
1911 Eglinton Avenue, Scarborough: Courtroom 407
1911 Eglinton Avenue, Scarborough (Youth Court): Courtroom 408
311 Jarvis Ave., Toronto (Youth Court): Courtroom 1
2201 Finch Ave. W., Etobicoke: Courtroom 202
2201 Finch Ave. W., Etobicoke: Courtroom 407
2016-10-24T11:59:20+00:00

About the Author:

Sean Robichaud is lead counsel and owner of Robichaud's.