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First appearance
First appearance

What should I bring to my first appearance date?

You should always bring the papers that you received from the police when you were released, or the papers you got from the court when you got out on bail.

Here is a checklist that may help you with your first appearance in court.

Some other items that may be helpful with your first appearance are:

  • Reference letters from employers, volunteer organizations, or religious groups, teachers and professors, and/or neighbours and family members.
  • School transcripts, copies of degrees/diplomas, proof of employment, social assistance, etc.

If there are special circumstances that affect your case or your next court date, you should bring proof of the circumstances. Examples include:

  • Travel itinerary
  • A signed letter from your doctor if you can’t attend court on a certain week because you are scheduled to undergo a medical procedure.

If you have hired a lawyer who will not be coming with you to your first appearance, then bring any letter of instruction that your lawyer gave you. You may wish to speak to duty counsel and show duty counsel the letter.

Who is the Crown?

In court, you’ll hear lawyers and judges talk about “the Crown” or “a Crown.” They are almost always talking about an assistant crown attorney or a federal prosecutor.

An assistant crown attorney is a government lawyer who prosecutes criminal cases on behalf of the provincial Ministry of Attorney General. A federal prosecutor is also a government lawyer who does the same thing for the federal Department of Justice. Unless you are charged with a drug-related or tax-related offence, your case will most-likely be prosecuted by an assistant crown attorney.

There are many different assistant crown attorneys and federal prosecutors in each courthouse.

In some courthouses, staff from the crown attorney’s office (often called the “crown’s office”) will assist with first appearance court.

What should I do when my name is called in court?

When your name is called, go up to the front of the courtroom. There will be a place for you to stand, facing the judge, likely between the Crown and duty counsel (or your own lawyer).

When speaking to the judge, you should refer to him or her as “Your Honour.” If a justice of the peace is sitting at the front of the court, you should refer to him or her as “Your Worship.” Remember, judges wear a red sash while justices of the peace wear a green sash.

You will probably be asked to confirm your name. You may also be asked if you know what you are charged with. If you do not know what you are charged with, you can ask the court to read out your charge(s).

If you haven’t received it before you entered the courtroom, the Crown will then likely give you your disclosure package.

After receiving your disclosure package, the judge will likely ask what you want to do with your case. If you have received advice and/or instructions from your lawyer or duty counsel, you may already know what you want to do, and can tell the judge at this point. However, if you do not know what you want to do, you can ask the judge if you can “hold down” or “stand down” your case until you’ve had an opportunity to speak to your lawyer and/or consider your options.

If you don’t have a lawyer, you may wish to speak to duty counsel if you haven’t already done so.

If your case gets “held down” or “stood down” your name will get called up again later and you’ll get another chance to tell the judge what you want to do. Try to be patient, as it may take a while before your name gets called up again.

Will I get more disclosure after my first appearance date? 

The package of material that you get on your first court date is sometimes called “initial disclosure.” This is because there may be more things that you will receive from the Crown on later court dates. This is usually called “additional disclosure”. The Crown may just give you this additional disclosure on a later court date, or you may have to ask for it, depending on the material.

You should always talk to your lawyer or duty counsel if you feel that something is missing or wrong in your disclosure. Your lawyer or duty counsel may be able to help you ask the Crown for the information that you need. They may also be able to look at your disclosure and tell you if some information is missing that may be important to your case.

What happens after I am released by the police or get out on bail?

If you’ve been charged with a criminal offence, after you are released by the police or get out on bail, you will have to go to court. This is called your first appearance. Your first appearance will usually be a few weeks after you have been released. The courtroom you will have to go to will probably be called one of these names:

  • first appearance court; or
  • assignment court; or
  • set date court

Depending on what you are charged with, you may have to make your first appearance in a special court that deals with only certain charges. Examples of these are:

  • youth court, which deals only with youth matters; or
  • domestic violence court, which deals only with domestic violence related charges.

How do I know where and when to go to court for my first appearance?

If you were released by the police, the date, time, and location of your first appearance will be written on a piece of paper given to you by the police. This paper is usually called an appearance notice, a summons, or a promise to appear. If you have been released on bail, the date, time and location of your first appearance will be on a piece of paper given to you by the court. This piece of paper will usually be called a recognizance or an undertaking.

To help you remember, always write your court date onto a calendar, enter it into your phone or wherever you record important dates. Also, try to arrange to take the day off work and child-care for minor children for the day you go to court.

Will my case be over on my first appearance date?

It is possible for your case to be finished on your first appearance date. This depends on the legal advice you receive, and other factors, some of which may be beyond your control.

However, you should be prepared for the likely possibility that your case will not be over on your first court date.

You must remember that unless the Crown is withdrawing your charge(s) or you are going to plead guilty to your charge(s) on your first appearance date, the court will give you a new date to return to court. This is called an adjournment.

It is not unusual for a case to be adjourned on your first appearance date. This could be for many different reasons. A case may be adjourned at your request or the request of the Crown. Whether or not you or the Crown is asking for an adjournment may be very important in your case. This is why you should speak to your lawyer or duty counsel before telling the judge what you want to do.

If your matter is adjourned, the court will then give you a new court date and time for your next appearance. In most courthouses, you will be handed a reminder slip with your next court date on it.

Can I argue my case on my first appearance date?

Your first appearance date will not be for a trial. Making arguments about your case, presenting evidence, and calling witnesses happen at a trial. Depending on what you want to do with your case, you may or may not have a trial.

If you have something to say about your case, tell it to your lawyer or duty counsel. Your lawyer or duty counsel may be able to talk to the Crown in private about your case in something called a Crown pre-trial or a resolution meeting.

Your first court date should be focused on getting information, getting organized and starting to think about what you might want to do with your case. You’ll also be able to tell the judge what you would like to do with your case. It always a good idea to speak to your lawyer or duty counsel about your options before you decide what to you want to do.

Will there be an information session held on my first appearance?

Some courthouses hold an information session before first appearance court starts. This session is to help you understand the court process and explain some of the legal options you may have. This information session is not meant to replace the legal advice that you can get by speaking to your lawyer or duty counsel.

There may also be people outside of the courtroom to help you on your first appearance date. They are usually staff from the Crown’s office. You should line up and let the staff know you have arrived by giving them your name. You may also be able to get disclosure before you go into the courtroom by doing this.

In some courthouses, you won’t be able to get your disclosure until your name is called and you are at the front of the courtroom.

In other courthouses, you may be asked to enter the courtroom before court starts and “check-in” by giving your name to a police officer or the Crown at the front of the courtroom.

What should I do when I arrive at court for my first appearance?

Try to arrive at least 30 minutes before you are scheduled to be in court. If you’re not sure what to do, go to the courtroom you are scheduled for; there may be people outside of the courtroom to help you.

If you don’t have a lawyer with you on your first appearance, you can speak to duty counsel before you go into the courtroom. If you have a lawyer, and they have left you instructions (usually a letter), you should tell duty counsel this because they may help you present those instructions to the judge.

You should try to be in the courtroom before court starts. This is because your name could get called and you’ll have to go to the front of the courtroom and speak to the judge. If you hear your name called and you are in the hallway or speaking to duty counsel you should go into the courtroom.

What should I do inside the courtroom during my first appearance?

Enter the courtroom, take a seat in the “body” of the court and wait for your name to be called. The body of the court is the area of seating behind where the lawyers sit. You usually cannot enter the area where the lawyers sit unless the judge or the Crown asks you to.

Here are some things to remember:

  • You should dress appropriately for court. Try not to wear T-shirts, tank-tops, or shorts. If you have sunglasses or a hat (except religious headdress), you must take them off before entering court unless you have a medical condition that requires you to wear them.
  • It is difficult to deal with your case and provide proper care for your minor children. If you can’t arrange for child-care, try to bring another adult with you who can mind your children outside of the courtroom while you deal with your case.
  • Court is very busy and there are lots of cases to deal with. Be prepared to spend most-of or the whole day at the courthouse.
  • Turn off all electronic devices before entering court. Vibration or silent mode is not allowed.
  • Gum-chewing, eating, or drinking are not permitted.
  • Once you enter the courtroom, you should take a seat and wait quietly until your case is called.
  • Cases are not necessarily called in alphabetical order.
  • The Crown controls which names are called. Your lawyer or duty counsel do not control when your name is called. They will try their best to get your name called as soon as possible.
  • In most courthouses, lawyers who are present in court will have their cases called before unrepresented people (including those who are using the assistance of duty counsel). Please remember this, and try to be patient.
  • Everything being said in court is being recorded. Remember this when speaking to the judge at the front of the courtroom.

What is disclosure?

Disclosure is a copy of the evidence that the Crown and police have collected to prosecute your case. It is given to you because it is your constitutional right to know the evidence that will be used against you.

Disclosure usually comes in a package that will be given to you by the Crown when you’re standing at the front of the courtroom, after your name has been called. In some courthouses, you may be able to get your disclosure before court starts.

Disclosure will probably look like a package of papers stapled together.

The package usually includes things like:

  • a crown screening form (also called a charge screening form);
  • copies of police officers’ notes;
  • witness statements;
  • photographs, a DVD or an audio CD.

You will usually get your disclosure on your first appearance date. If this doesn’t happen, you will want to let the judge know that you didn’t get your disclosure. You may also get more disclosure if you come back to court for further court dates.

Your disclosure package will also have a written summary of the Crown’s version of the incident that lead to your charge(s). This is called a synopsis. You may or may not agree that things happened the way the synopsis says they did. When looking at your disclosure, it is important to remember that it represents the evidence gathered by the police and it may not include your side of the story.

What is a crown screening form?

The first or second page of the disclosure package is usually called a crown screening form or a charge screening form. It will have tick boxes on it that will look something this:

The Crown is proceeding:
[ ] By summary conviction.
[ ] By indictment.

On a guilty plea, the Crown:
[ ] Will ask for custody.
[ ] Will not ask for custody.

After a trial date is set, the Crown:
[ ] Will ask for custody.
[ ] Will not ask for custody.

This form is very important because it tells you whether or not the Crown will ask for a jail sentence if you plead guilty or if you’re found guilty after a trial. It will also tell you if the Crown is proceeding by way of summary conviction or by indictment.

Depending on what it says, this form may influence what you want to do with your case. If you have trouble understanding this form, or anything in the disclosure package, speak to your lawyer or to duty counsel.

What is a Crown pre-trial or a resolution meeting?

A resolution meeting (or Crown pre-trial) is a meeting held between the Crown and your lawyer or duty counsel. You will probably not be able to attend the meeting. For legal reasons, the Crown will rarely meet with a person who has been charged.

Examples of when a resolution meeting might happen are when:

  • You have told your lawyer or duty counsel that you may want to plead guilty to your charge(s) and you would like to know what the Crown would ask for as a penalty if you did;
  • Your lawyer or duty counsel has looked at your case and feels the Crown may consider diversion or simply withdrawing your charge(s).
  • You have information that you have given to your lawyer or duty counsel that may be helpful in convincing the Crown to withdraw your charges;
  • You would like the Crown to agree to have one or more of your bail conditions changed;
  • You, your lawyer or duty counsel feels there is something missing from your disclosure and would like to talk to the Crown about it.

It important to remember that it is the Crown’s decision to withdraw charges or agree to change your bail. Your lawyer or duty counsel will argue on your behalf, but they do not make the decision. However, if the Crown does not agree to the bail change that you want, your lawyer or duty counsel may be able to tell you about other possible ways of getting your bail changed.

What should I do after speaking to duty counsel on my first appearance date?

You should immediately go into the courtroom, wait for your name to be called, and be prepared to tell the judge what you want to do with your case.

There are many different things that you may want to do with your case. What you do depends on your situation and the legal advice that you receive. You should always think carefully about what you want to do and get legal advice before you make a decision. If you don’t know what to tell the judge, duty counsel may be able to assist you by speaking to the judge for you. Because they are lawyers, duty counsel may be able to explain your situation to the judge in a manner that protects your rights.

Here are some examples of requests that may be made on a first appearance date:

  • Let the judge know you are looking for more information from the Crown before you can make a decision;
  • Ask the judge to adjourn your case to later date so that you can have some time to retain (hire) a lawyer;
  • Ask the judge to adjourn your case because you need to get reference letters, complete community service hours or counselling so that the Crown will withdraw your charge(s);
  • Ask the judge to adjourn your case so you can take  time to consider the legal advice that you received from duty counsel;
  • Tell the judge that you would like to have a trial in your case and that you would like to set a trial date;
  • Tell the judge you would like to have your case sent to guilty plea court so that you can plead guilty to your charge(s).

Note: Pleading guilty is a serious decision. You should only do this if you have received legal advice from your lawyer or duty counsel.

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