How the Criminal Court System Works

The First Appearance in Court

 After you are released by way of a bail hearing or a ‘Promise to Appear’ you will be required to make your First Appearance in Criminal Court. It is a Criminal Offence to not be present at this appearance. Either you should appear or you should hire a lawyer and sign a legal designation which will allow your lawyer to appear on your behalf.

It is advisable to meet with a lawyer before your first appearance and discuss the nature of the charges. Retaining a lawyer is possible and advisable before your first appearance in that this allows you to be fully represented at all times in court. With the effective representation of counsel, it is possible for you to not appear at all until your trial date or resolution date. Further, with the assistance of counsel, you will not need to speak a word in court or to the judge or justice of the peace, unless you so choose.

Your first appearance is an administrative appearance in that you not required to decided whether you are pleading guilty or innocent, but rather, you should expect to receive your disclosure (which is the evidence that crown has against you in the criminal matter).

You will be expected to tell the court how long you will need in order to review the documents. Typically the court will allow you a one month adjournment period in order for you to review the documents and advise the court whether you will be pleading guilty or innocent.


Disclosure is evidence that the Crown has against you. All evidence must be disclosed to defence counsel within a reasonable amount of time. Evidence that must be disclosed includes evidence that is both useful and harmful to your case. 

Full disclosure is essential to defending your case. Your defence counsel should review the disclosure with you at length to ensure that all data is accurate and that nothing is missing. 

Initial disclosure is typically anywhere from 30-50 pages. Disclosure may also include CDs, DVDs, Video tapes, pictures, interviews, police officer’s notes, and pictures. Other types of disclosure include: cell phone records, search warrants, report to justice and certificate of analysis.

After you receive your disclosure you will usually get about a month or less to review the disclosure and come back with a counsel or decide to plead guilty. Within the disclosure is the synopsis which is a page or two document that is written by a police officer that describes the nature of the allegations. If you are to plead guilty or to have a bail hearing, the synopsis will be read in court, as the ‘agreed statement of facts’. The synopsis therefore is vital, in that, if you do plead guilty, the synopsis will be read in to the court record, and could be produced in transcribed (in writing) at any time. Your defence counsel should able to negotiate a more suitable ‘agreed statement of facts’ with the Crown attorney. This is especially important for those individuals involved in immigration or family law proceedings.

Within a month of your first appearance in criminal court, your counsel should hold a crown pre-trial with the crown attorney at your specific court house. This pre-trial will occur either over the phone, or in person. Your counsel should have reviewed your disclosure in full by that point, and be ready to discuss the merits of the case with the Crown attorney at this point.

Defence counsel will let the crown counsel know about any outstanding disclosure issues, as well as any other major issues that are present in the disclosure – including eligible notes, lack of relevancy of disclosure, or missing third party notes. 

It is typically at this point, where the defence counsel will advise the Crown whether the individuals wants to plead guilty or proceed to trial. Charter applications, pre-trial motions, witnesses and issues such as date, jurisdiction and I.D. are discussed at this point. After the crown-pre-trial the matter should be ready to either proceed to trial or a guilty plea (however, in some cases, where there are a number of outstanding issues – more crown pre-trials may be required).

If there are more complex issues involved with the matter, or the matter is scheduled for more than one day at trial – then a judicial pre-trial may be required (specifically in the jurisdiction of Toronto) 

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Early intervention by experienced, responsible legal counsel is crucial to effectively defending your freedom when you've been charged with a crime. You owe it to yourself to get a criminal defence lawyer that can give you the best possible representation and advice, inside and outside of the courtroom. Rishi Singh Law is ready to help you seek justice and get a superior defence. 

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