What is Domestic Assault?

A domestic assault is an assault that takes place between “intimate partners” who are either current or former spouses, common-law partners, or dating partners.

Where an assault takes place between two people who share one of these relationships mentioned above, the matter is labeled “domestic” and prosecuted quite differently by Crown counsel than other types of assault charges.

According to the “Crown Policy Manual”, a document provided by the Attorney General, detailing how Crown prosecutors are to perform their duties, Crown Attorneys are instructed to “prosecute domestic violence offenses as vigorously as other serious criminal matters”.


Although the Criminal Code doesn’t contain a distinct “domestic assault charge”, in many jurisdictions, domestic assault cases are separately identified and prosecuted by a special team of prosecutors who almost exclusively deal with these types of allegations.

Recent Criminal Code changes instruct judges and prosecutors to act more harshly towards people accused of intimate partner violence at every stage of a criminal proceeding including the bail stage and at sentencing.

For example, In the bail context, a Justice is now required to consider whether someone is charged with an offense where actual, attempted or threatened violence was used against an intimate partner.

At the sentencing stage, the court must now consider violence against an intimate partner, or the family member of the victim or offender, as an aggravating factor on sentencing.

Internal police policies dictate that in almost all situations, the police are to charge a person alleged to have assaulted another in a domestic context, regardless of whether or not independent proof of the crime exists such as visible injuries or independent witnesses to the offence. A person’s word in the absence of ANY other evidence is enough to bring someone into the criminal justice system on an assault charge.

What is the First Appearance?

If you have been charged with Domestic Assault you will be given a court date.  This is known as your First Appearance.  Your First Appearance will be outlined in your release documentation and will contain a date, time, courtroom, and courthouse address.  In most cases, the courthouse will be in the same region where any offence(s) are alleged to have occurred. If you have been charged with an indictable offence, the police will also require that you provide them with your fingerprints and photographs, pursuant to the Criminal Records Act.  Failure to Attend your First Appearance or your fingerprint/photograph date is a serious criminal offence.  It is of utmost importance that you attend for your fingerprints and photographs. If you hire a lawyer, your attendance may not be necessary in court. Many clients do not wish to be present for merely administrative court dates, for those clients that are working or for whatever reason they prefer to get updates instead of attending, that is an option that will be discussed at our initial meeting.

The First Appearance is strictly administrative in nature and it is uncommon for anything of substance to occur.  The Canadian criminal justice system does not require that defendants be ‘arraigned’ on their first court appearance.  An arraignment is when a defendant is required to enter a plea of ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ with respect to the allegations before the Court.

When you or your lawyer attend the first court appearance, the crown attorney will provide Disclosure.  In most cases, the matter will be adjourned for several weeks to allow the defence to review these materials.  I will attend court for you and fight vigorously to achieve the best result in your case.

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