Criminal Court Procedures in Ontario

What you need to know about the Criminal Court process in Ontario.

Criminal Court process diagram

Understanding what to do is often the single most stressful aspect of the Criminal Court process. While every case is unique, there are general guidelines for what the accused can expect from the time of arrest until sentencing or appeal.

Criminal courts may appear to move slowly at times — court appearances weeks apart, or trial dates months away, but this is not unusual. It’s also not unusual for even the most minor cases to take a year or more to reach trial, and while this is not necessarily a disadvantage for the accused, it can result in ongoing anxiety and make restrictive bail conditions frustrating.

Bail Hearings and First Court Appearances

If detained upon their arrest (not released by the police), for the accused, the bail hearing is their most important day in court.

Although all Canadians are constitutionally guaranteed reasonable bail, automatic release for the accused is not guaranteed. If denied bail, the accused will either have to await their trial in custody, or will need to apply to appeal the bail decision to the Superior Court which can be a lengthy and costly endeavour.

Disclosure

If the accused has been released from the police on the day of the allegations, or granted bail, their next appearance will be in assignment court to seek “disclosure”. In Canada, it is the accused’s right to know what information the Crown intends to rely on to prosecute them. Assignment court is their opportunity to understand the case against them.

Disclosure assists in applying for Legal Aid. Legal Aid needs to know the charges against the accused before an application will be considered. The accused’s lawyer will then be able to advise on the strength of the Crown’s case so the correct actions may be taken.

Crown Resolution (Pre-Trial) Meeting

Because Crown Attorney’s will typically not meet with accused persons to discuss their case directly, it is always advisable to have a lawyer discuss the case with the Crown so as to not unintentionally provide further evidence against the accused. This meeting is commonly referred to as a “Crown Resolution Meeting” and a precursor to scheduling a trial date.

Following this meeting, the accused will be advised of the information shared by the Crown Attorney and how to approach their case going forward.

Judicial Pre-Trial Meeting

Although similar to a Crown Resolution Meeting, this discussion is held in front of a judge in Chambers or closed court where the accused is usually not permitted to attend. The judge may be able to further narrow the issues or convince one party to resolve the case if their is an impasse in negotiations.

These proceedings can be helpful in negotiating the best possible resolution for the accused since they involve the additional objective opinion of the judge.

Preliminary Hearing

Typically, preliminary hearings are only required for serious cases, or in the case the Crown or accused request one. They are formal proceeding in court to determine whether or not there is enough evidence available to commit the accused to stand trial on all the counts they are charged with. A lawyer will be able to advise the accused on whether this is necessary.

Trial

At trial, the accused’s guilt or innocence will be determined by a judge or jury. Jury trials are reserved only for those charged with the most serious offences such as murder, robbery, serious sexual assaults, or crimes that upon conviction, will result in a potentially lengthy custodial sentence.

Despite the monetary cost, it is highly advisable to retain legal representation for trial.

Verdict

The verdict which will decide whether the accused is found guilty or innocent is delivered by the judge or jury, depending on the circumstances or seriousness of the case. If found guilty, the accused will be sentenced accordingly. Upon acquittal, the matter is resolved unless the Crown chooses to appeal the verdict for which they usually have 30 days to do so.

Sentencing

The sentencing of an accused person is not an easy task due to the numerous factors and circumstances that the judge is required to consider. Legal representation will assist the accused in these submissions and advocate for leniency or restraint, and to ensure their rights are protected.

Even in sentencing, a lawyer is a critcal advocate for the accused — to ensure any fines, time spent in custody, or the sentence received is not excessive and is proportionate to the offence.

Appeal

The court’s decision can be appealed by both the accused and the Crown but must be done in a timely manner to not miss filing deadlines imposed by the court. The accused should speak to their legal representation immediately to determine what steps to take.

For more information, please contact (416) 540-9960

Retaining Legal Counsel

You should decide early on whether or not you wish to retain counsel. I can help you navigate the process so that it’s clearer and less potentially frustrating. Initial consultations are free, so there’s no risk or obligation.

Contact my office 24 hrs a day