Criminal Justice Process

What if… 

You, a family member or a friend, find yourself charged with a criminal offence. One of the things I am often struck with when attending at criminal court is how unfamiliar the average person is with the criminal justice system. We are bombarded with scenes from the artificial courtrooms of mainstream mass media, yet, these shows present an abbreviated view, usually, of the American criminal justice system. What people are most often surprised to find is the length of time a normal case takes to progress from first appearance to trial. The hope of this article is to provide some useful information about a system that we all hope never to face.

 First Appearance 

This is often the most nerve-wracking court appearance but is just what the title implies, a first appearance. At this court date you will likely receive the crown’s sentencing position and a summary of the case against you. This information is very important if you plan to retain a lawyer or seek legal aid. The crown sentencing position is an indication of what the prosecutor would be asking the court to consider as a sentence if you were to enter a guilty plea. While it is always my advice that people seek legal advice as soon as they are charged it is often not until after the first appearance that people contact a lawyer. Typically the first appearance involves receiving the above documentation and putting the matter over to a future date in order to allow you to speak with a lawyer or submit an application to legal aid. Duty counsel is available at a first appearance to provide you with summary advice.

 Set date appearance 

The next appearance, hopefully, involves setting your matter for a  resolution meeting, where your lawyer and the crown lawyer will discuss your case and determine what time would be required if the matter was to proceed to trial. Often people have a number of set date appearances which results in added frustration for the court, crown counsel and likely yourself. There are certainly some things that would necessitate delaying this stage (e.g. the need for additional information from crown counsel [disclosure]). 

Setting trial and/or pre-trial dates 

After your lawyer has had an opportunity to review your case as well as discuss the case with crown counsel you will likely either enter a guilty plea or set the matter for trial. Depending on the particular circumstance of your case your lawyer may ask for a pre-trial hearing as well. The wait for a trial date will depend on the jurisdiction that your charges are being heard. It is not uncommon for trial dates to be more than six months to a year from the day they are set.


 Trial is where television focuses its attention. It is the time where the crown is put to the burden of proving you guilty and your opportunity to present your case.

 In the event you are found guilty there will be an additional stage, sentencing. This may occur on the last day of trial but may also be held on a different day altogether.

The length of time that the process will take depends on a number of factors; the complexity of the case, the jurisdiction that the case is in (e.g. for cases in Oakville, Burlington, Milton and the rest of Halton region out of custody trials are being set roughly 9 months into the future. Cases in Brampton, Mississauga and the rest of Peel are being set in a slightly shorter time period.)

 This is merely a brief description of the criminal justice process. As always if you are charged with an offence it is important that you contact a lawyer as early as possible. The court will appreciate that you are organized and taking an active interest in your case.

 A couple of points about court attendances:

  1. Dress for the occasion – it is unlikely that anything else you do the week of a court appearance will be as important to you and your future as the appearance so dress appropriately (NO tank tops, shorts, halter tops etc.)
  2. Arrive on time and preferably early.
  3. Don’t make important plans on the day of a court attendance, depending on the court list you could be there for a while.
  4. If you have a cell phone make sure that it is turned off before entering the courtroom.


  DISCLAIMER: The information on this site is not intended as legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should seek legal advice from a lawyer.

  Copyright 2008 Brendan Neil

Providing Criminal representation in south central ontario including; Oakville, Burlington, Milton, Brampton, Mississauga, Hamilton, Toronto and surrounding areas

Brendan Neil Barrister & Solicitor, Criminal Trial Lawyer