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What should I do if I know I won't be able to attend a court date for a criminal offence?
If you're charged with a criminal offence, it's very important that you go to court on every scheduled date or hire a lawyer to go to court for you.
But don't assume that you don't have to go to court because you hired a lawyer. Each lawyer agrees to provide different services, depending on their retainer agreement. Unless your lawyer says you don't need to be there, you must be at court on the date shown in your document.
In some situations you can send someone to court on your behalf. This person is called an agent. But it always best to go to court yourself.
Changing your court date
If you know you won't be able to go to court on your scheduled date and you don't have a lawyer, you can ask duty counsel to help you reschedule your appearance. This is called "bringing your matter forward".
You must arrange this well before your scheduled court date. You can only reschedule for an earlier date than the one that you have been given. You cannot reschedule to a date that is later than your originally scheduled date.
Changing the date of a trial
The process for changing your trial date is different from the process for changing your court date. To change your trial date, you must:
- bring your case forward, and
- apply to have your trial date adjourned.
Apply as early as possible. A judge will decide whether your case will proceed, or whether your adjournment will be granted. Your application should be made at least 60 days before the date set for your trial.
Missing your court date
If you miss a court date and a lawyer or agent does not attend for you, the judge or justice of the peace will likely order a bench warrant for your arrest. If this happens, you will be arrested and held for a bail hearing unless you are able to have the bench warrant cancelled. You can also be charged with the criminal offence of failure to appear.
Sometimes when you miss a court date, the court will order a special kind of warrant called a discretionary bench warrant. With this type of warrant, the court adjourns your case without ordering a bench warrant for your arrest. They will set a new date for your case. And the police will not arrest you. If you have to miss court, do everything you can to get a discretionary bench warrant instead of a bench warrant.
If you miss your next court date after you have had a discretionary bench warrant, a bench warrant for your arrest will likely be ordered.