Criminal Procedure – First Appearance
If you have been arrested, you will be summoned to a “first appearance” either after you are released by the police or after your bail hearing, but this is not the same thing as your trial. That is not to say that attending the first appearance is optional. In fact, you are required to attend it by law, and failure to attend may result in another arrest.
There is no way to predict how long your first appearance will be as they vary from a few minutes to the entire day. If you have extenuating circumstances and cannot attend the first appearance, you must contact a criminal lawyer to make arrangements with the court on your behalf.
Depending on the nature of your criminal charges, you may be able to appoint an “agent”, such as a family member or friend, to attend the first appearance on your behalf. It is important to consult a lawyer to see if your situation allows you to appoint an agent. You can also sign a form called “Designation of Counsel” appointing a defence lawyer to appear on your behalf.
Your first appearance will take place in what is called a “set date” court and will be purely administrative in nature. Set date courts are designed to plan future dates, such as plea dates, trial dates…etc. You will not be asked to make a plea of guilty or not guilty, examine and cross-examine evidence, produce witnesses, or receive a verdict during your first appearance.
Your main purpose in the first appearance is to obtain the “Disclosure” from the Crown Attorney. In your case, the Crown will rely on materials called “the disclosure” to prosecute the charges against you. Disclosure can include all of the evidence that the Crown has against you, such as police notes, statements, etc. The disclosure will allow you and your lawyer to understand the case against you and prepare accordingly. The Crown is legally required to provide you with disclosure.
Do not be nervous to see a judge at your first appearance. The judge’s role is to oversee that the process runs smoothly and ask relevant questions. For example, you will be asked if you have a lawyer or intend to retain one. The judge will also be the one to ask the Crown if they have provided you with disclosure, determine the general status of your case, and decide on the return date.
Sometimes, the Crown may or may not have the disclosure ready to hand over by the date of the first appearance. Whether you receive the disclosure or not, your case will be adjourned for several weeks after the first appearance. This is normal as the weeks after the first appearance are meant to allow you to review the disclosure with a lawyer, or you may still have to wait for the Crown to present the disclosure on another appearance. This second appearance also does not count as a trial date.
To summarize, during your first appearance, you will:
- Obtain your disclosure
- If Crown is not ready to produce the disclosure, schedule another appearance for them to do so
- Answer any questions posed from the court (e.g. do you have a lawyer?)
- Set your next court date
We understand that you are apprehensive about your first court appearance and the charges against you. However, with preparation, we can help you navigate the complex procedural requirements of your criminal trial.
If you are looking for more information, do not hesitate to contact us and our Criminal defence Lawyers can discuss your matter in more detail over a free consultation. You can reach our office at 905-366-0202.