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Your First Court Appearance During COVID-19

Graham Zoppi

April 20, 2020

*Information is subject to change based on the Ontario Court of Justice COVID-19 notices which can be found here: https://www.ontariocourts.ca/ocj/covid-19/

If your first court date was between the dates of March 16, 2020 and July 3, 2020, your court matter has been automatically adjourned to future court dates that have been posted here. Subject to COVID-19 notices, you will have to be present for that new first appearance date either in person, teleconference, or videoconference (check the OCJ notice for future details). Failure to appear for your first court date may result in a warrant for your arrest and a criminal charge of failure to appear for court. If you have already retained a lawyer, they will be able to attend court on your behalf during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before your First Court Appearance

Before your first court appearance, you will want to meet with your lawyer to discuss how your case will progress and to give them information that may be helpful in understanding the criminal charges against you. You should also gather various documentation and bring it with you to your meeting including:

  • Release paperwork (ie, recognizance, bail, or promise to appear forms)
  • Any disclosure or documents previously given to you by the Crown or police
  • Any documents relevant to the charges (ie, photographs, emails, digital records, etc)
  • Photo identification

Your lawyer can then decide what documents would be useful in resolving the criminal charges and what further documents may be required.

If you have retained a lawyer before your first court date, your lawyer will be able to appear on your behalf for your first court date through a Designation of Counsel so that you will not have to attend personally going forward unless required by your lawyer or the Court.

Attending Court In-Person

You may have to attend court in-person during COVID-19 if you have a trial or preliminary inquiry hearing, or if the Court issues new directives on in-person court attendance. Please keep these general guidelines in mind when attending in-person.

On the day of your court appearance, arrive early and do not be late for your hearing. Give yourself time to find the courtroom you are appearing in and to meet your lawyer ahead of team in case they need to speak with you before the appearance.

When the judge/justice enters the courtroom, you will stand until instructed to be seated by the court staff. Do not speak or talk during the proceeding unless otherwise directed by your lawyer or the judge/justice. Make sure your cellphone is off.

If you are appearing for a set-date appearance, you will wait until your name is called by the Crown attorney. Once called, you will be asked for an update on the status of your case before the court sets a future remand date for you to return to court. This will continue until a trial date is set or your matter resolves. A lawyer can appear on these routine set-dates on your behalf and save you significant time from attending court personally. You may also be asked to speak with Legal Aid while at court if you intended on applying for Legal Aid assistance.

If you are attending for a trial or preliminary hearing, make sure to dress appropriately. An experienced trial lawyer will advise you as to your recommended dress and personal appearance for trial. At the start of the case, the charges against you will be read out in court. The Crown Attorney will present evidence and call witnesses to support the charges against you. You or your lawyer will have the ability to cross-examine and challenge the Crown evidence, and present defence evidence if required. After both sides have presented evidence, questioned witnesses, and given closing arguments, the judge will return a verdict on your case.

Please remember, this is just an overview of the generalized processes. Your proceedings may vary slightly depending on the charges and severity of the criminal offence.

If you have further questions about attending court and need a criminal defence lawyer to help fight your charges, please contact RGZ Law at (416) 873-6970 for a free consultation today!