Top 10 Tips For Your First Criminal Court Appearance

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Top 10 Tips For Your First Criminal Court Appearance
  1. You don’t need to attend, if you retain a lawyer and sign a ‘designation’
    • If you plan on retaining a lawyer, do so right away. Don’t waste your time attending court to get the disclosure because you think you’ll save some money on your legal fees—you won’t. If you work, go to school, have kids, or have any other obligations, and you can’t attend court, then retain a lawyer and have he or she prepare a designation pursuant to section 650.01 of the Criminal Code, which allows you to ‘designate’ a lawyer to appear on your behalf where your presence is not required by law or the direction of the judge. Retain a lawyer as soon as possible, in case there are disclosure issues (e.g. delay in receiving it or ensuring it is not missing any significant information). Issues with disclosure can be very critical and may lead to charges being withdrawn or stayed.
  2. First appearance is NOT your trial date
    • In most cases, you will have to make several appearances before a trial date is set. The first appearance serves more of an administrative purpose, in the sense that you or your lawyer (if you have already retained one) will be seeking disclosure or time to review the disclosure and conduct a crown pre-trial (meeting between crown attorney and defence counsel). Save the suit and tie for trial dates, but dress appropriately for this and all other court appearances.
  3. You’re probably appearing before a Justice of the Peace (JP), not a Judge – address them accordingly
    • JP’s wear a green sash over their black robe, while judges wear a red sash. Refer to a JP as “your Worship” and a judge as “your Honour”. Make sure you are standing up whenever speaking to the judge or JP, and maintain eye-contact. Answer their questions, speak clearly and get straight to the point. They typically won’t get into any details about the case but may ask you to state your name, or inquire about whether you are retaining a lawyer, etc.
  4. No chatting, cellphones, food, drinks–remove all hoods, nonreligious headgear and sunglasses
    • Nothing is more humiliating than being publicly scolded by a court clerk, JP or judge, which is likely to be followed by a lecture (e.g. how the courtroom is not a coffee shop and that your Tim Horton’s double-double coffee or Starbuck’s caramel macchiato is not allowed inside the courtroom).
  5. Attend the courthouse early
    • Leave extra time for getting lost, finding a parking spot, getting searched by court officers, locating the courtroom your matter is in and potentially attending the duty counsel office. If you want to take advantage of tip #6, then you’ll need a bit more time as well.
  6. Speak to criminal lawyers you see at court
    • If you haven’t retained a criminal lawyer yet and ended up at court on your own, don’t worry because you should have no problem finding a lawyer. Criminal lawyers can be found everywhere in a courthouse – courtrooms, hallways, cafeteria, etc. I highly encourage any unrepresented accused persons to approach these lawyers and ask them for a minute of their time to discuss any questions or concerns. A large number of solicitor-client relationships are in fact established in the halls of courthouses all across Ontario.
  7. Duty counsel and duty crown are not the same thing
    • Duty counsel are typically Legal Aid Ontario staff lawyers, who provide immediate legal assistance to anyone who appears in court without a lawyer. If you don’t have a lawyer and you’re attending court for a first appearance, then the first person you want to speak to is duty counsel. This should not be confused with the ‘duty crown’ or ‘resolution crown’, who is a crown attorney/prosecutor assigned a certain role for a particular day (e.g. meeting with defence counsels to discuss resolving matters). The last thing you want to do is confuse the two and start providing the wrong individual details of your matter.
  8. Apply for Legal Aid ASAP
    • If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer through a private retainer, then you’ll want to contact Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) as soon as possible to submit an application for financial assistance in retaining a lawyer. Call LAO on their toll-free number at 1-800-668-8258 or visit the LAO website at for more information. If you don’t qualify for legal aid for whatever reason, then consider retaining a criminal lawyer from JusticeNet. JusticeNet is a not-for-profit service helping people in need of legal expertise, whose income is too high to access legal aid and too low to afford standard legal fees. Visit to find participating lawyers, paralegals and other legal professionals who dedicate a portion of their practice to individuals who qualify for such services.
  9. Expect another court date, not objections and courtroom drama
    • Individuals who have lawyers  will be addressed first and then duty counsel will assist self-represented accused persons typically in the order of the court docket for that day which is ordered alphabetically by last name. Be prepared for a long, uneventful and repetitive wait, where everyone’s matter is being adjourned to a later date.
  10. Don’t speak directly to the crown, avoid discussion about your matter
    • Always speak to your lawyer, or if you don’t have a lawyer then to duty counsel when you are in court. Try to avoid speaking directly to the court or the crown—you may say something that can hurt your case. Be aware of the fact that a court reporter is typing everything that is said in court. Also, don’t take it personal, but no one actually knows much about your matter. The justice of the peace or judge, and the crown attorney very likely are unaware of the specifics of your case as well since he or she is just the prosecutor assigned to ‘set date’ court that specific day and is responsible for speaking to a long list of matters that are being prosecuted by various crown attorneys.
If you or anyone you know has been charged with a criminal offence, please contact Farjoud Law at (647) 606-6776  to speak directly to a criminal lawyer. Farjoud Law is located at 4950 Yonge Street, Suite 2200 in the neighbourhood of North York in Toronto, Ontario.  Click here for directions to the office. Farjoud Law – Your North York Criminal Lawyers. 
Please note that this article is solely for informational purposes and should not be considered legal advice. Please consult a lawyer prior to acting or relying on any information in order to ensure the protection of your rights and interests.


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