What to do before your first appearance at criminal court

Whether you’re released by the police or on bail, you will get a piece of paper called a release document that gives you the:

  • date
  • time
  • location of your first court date

What is first appearance?

This is not your trial date.

This is when you go to court to find out about the case against you and what your options are.

Your first court date is about:

  • getting information
  • getting organized
  • starting to think about what you might want to do with your case.

Depending on what you want to do with your case (like if you decide to plead guilty), you may or may not have a trial.

Things to consider before your first appearance

Get your disclosure

Your disclosure is the copy of information that the Crown and police have collected. It can include:

  • investigating officer notes
  • witness statements
  • diagrams
  • photographs

The disclosure package

The disclosure package will also have a charge screening form that 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.

You will get your disclosure from the Crown when you’re standing at the front of the courtroom, after your name has been called.

If you are Francophone, you have the right to have your proceedings conducted in French.

Not comfortable speaking in English or French?

You can get an interpreter for free.

  • Call the courthouse that is listed on your release document and leave a message with:

    • your full name
    • the language you speak
    • the date and time you are coming to court
    • the courtroom number

Things to bring to court

  • any papers the police or anyone else gave you relating to your charge
  • any papers you think might be important to your case
  • any papers relating to your income you may need to apply for legal aid if you can’t afford a lawyer

When to see duty counsel?

If you don’t have a lawyer, it’s helpful to see duty counsel after you’ve received your disclosure because then this lawyer can see what the case is against you and let you know what your options are.

If you want duty counsel services for your next appearance, contact LAO at 1‑800‑668‑8258. Let us know if you need an interpreter. We will arrange for a free interpreter, separate from the court interpreter, for this purpose.

If you have a private lawyer who accepted a certificate to represent you in the past and you want to use them for your current charges, that lawyer can fill out the certificate. If you are eligible for legal aid, the certificate will be sent directly to your lawyer. In some cases, if we need more information, we will contact you in writing.

If you are facing criminal charges for the first time or have never received a legal aid certificate before, you can still have a lawyer start the application process for you. You will have to contact LAO to complete the application at 416‑979‑1446 or toll free 1‑800‑668‑8258.

Make sure that the lawyer you choose is right for you. Legal Aid Ontario rarely allows you to change your lawyer.

Your lawyer will need the following to start your legal aid application:

  • A copy of your criminal record and disclosure package which will be provided by the Crown to you in court.

  • Information on income details, such as if you are on Ontario Works benefits, Ontario Disability benefits. If you are working, or receiving Employment Insurance, Workers Compensation, CPP, OAS or a private pension, etc. then details on your gross income.

  • Information about your family size and the number of people who you live with and/ or support as dependents.

  • Information on assets and debts (e.g. property, RRSPs, GICs) and their current value and availability.

You should also have this information available when you call LAO to complete your application.

What happens during first appearance?

  1. The courthouse you have to go to for your first court appearance will be listed on your release document.

  2. Get your disclosure, which is the case against you.

  3. Take your disclosure to a courthouse lawyer known to duty counsel to find out what your options are.

  4. Find out what the Crown Attorney would recommend to the judge in terms of a sentence if you choose to plead guilty.


Tips

  • Arrive at least 30 minutes before you have to be in court.
  • Try to be in the courtroom before court starts so that when your name is called, you can go to the front of the courtroom and speak to the judge.