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What happens on my first court date for a criminal offence?
On your first court date, you must either go to court or hire a lawyer to be there for you. If you miss your court date, the justice of the peace will order a bench warrant for your arrest. You can also be charged with failure to appear if you miss your court date.
If you don't have a lawyer, you can speak with duty counsel before you go into the courtroom. Duty counsel are lawyers who work in the courthouse. They are employed by Legal Aid Ontario to help people who do not have a lawyer. They usually can't represent you at your trial, but they may be able to:
- help you with a Crown pre-trial or a judicial pre-trial
- give you information and advice
- help you find out if you qualify for Legal Aid
Inside the courtroom, they can:
- give information to the court for you
- adjourn your case each time you appear in court without a lawyer
- give the court updates about what's going on with your case when they adjourn it
Waiting your turn
In some cases it can take several hours to get to your name, but usually less than that. Be prepared to wait in court the whole day.
When your name is called, stand and walk to the front of the courtroom. The justice of the peace will ask you to introduce yourself to the court.
If you don't have a lawyer, duty counsel will help you when your name is called.
If you have a lawyer with you, your name may be called sooner. Courts usually allow lawyers to deal with their cases first.
Your lawyer or duty counsel will ask the Crown for the information that the police and Crown have about your case. This is called disclosure. The Crown is legally required to provide you with disclosure. The Crown will:
- give you the disclosure they have, or
- tell you that the disclosure is not yet available.
The first time you're in court, your case might be adjourned to give the Crown more time to prepare your disclosure. This also gives you time to decide whether you want to hire a lawyer, or apply for legal assistance from Legal Aid Ontario.