Appealing Court Decisions in Canada

Appealing Court Decisions in Canada

Often, the final verdict in a Canadian criminal trial isn’t as definitive as you might think. The convicted might appeal their decision to have the ruling overturned or the sentence lessened. The process of appealing a court decision is complicated and costly—but if you’re confident in your case, it might be worth considering.

This article will discuss what goes into appealing the court’s decision in Canadian criminal trials and the likelihood of success.

What is an Appeal?

To begin, it’s essential to understand precisely what an appeal is. An appeal is a case brought before a higher court to overturn the original decision. The appealing party – usually the defense – will argue that errors in the original trial resulted in an unfair outcome.

Here’s how the Government of Canada explains it:

“If either party disagrees with a judge’s decision, they can ask the Provincial/Territorial Courts of Appeal or the Federal Court of Appeal to review it.

If the appeal court allows the appeal, it can reverse or change the judge’s decision, or order a new trial or hearing. Otherwise the decision stands. The person who appeals must show that the judge’s interpretation of the law or the facts affected the result.

If the parties reach an agreement, this usually ends the judicial process.”

Types of Appeals in Canada

In Ontario, there are three primary types of appeals: appeals against convictions, appeals against sentences, and a Crown appeal.

Appeals against convictions

In this case, the convicted person is arguing they are innocent of the crime they were found guilty of. In order to do this, they must show there was some sort of error made during the trial.

For example, if evidence was improperly admitted or excluded, if there was a problem with jury selection, or if the judge made a mistake in their instructions to the jury.

Appeals against sentences

An appeal against sentence is different from an appeal against conviction, in that the appealing party isn’t trying to say they didn’t commit the crime. Instead, they’re arguing that the sentence handed down by the judge was too harsh given the circumstances.

The grounds for this type of appeal are usually that the sentence is “unfit,” meaning it doesn’t fit the crime, or there was an error made in the judge’s calculations.

Crown appeal

A Crown appeal is when the prosecutor – not the defendant – appeals the court’s decision to acquit. In order for this to happen, the Crown must show significant legal errors were made. These are relatively rare.

Appealing Court Decisions: The Process

Now that we’ve gone over the different appeals types, let’s look at the process itself.

The first step is to file a notice of appeal. This document tells the court that you intend to appeal the decision and includes information like your name and contact information, as well as the date of the original decision and why you’re appealing it.

Once the notice of appeal is filed, both parties will submit written arguments called “factums” to the court. These factums lay out each party’s argument and the evidence they plan to present.

After the factums are submitted, there will be a hearing where both sides can present their oral arguments. This is usually done in front of a panel of three Canadian judges.

Once the hearing is over, the judges will make their decision.

The judges will either:

  • Dismiss the appeal
  • Order a new trial
  • Put aside the criminal conviction and either order a new trial or submit an acquittal
  • Put aside the acquittal and either order a new trial or enter a verdict of guilty if the trial took place without a jury
  • Alter the sentence and increase or reduce the duration of the sentence
  • Add or remove penalties such as probation or fines

Appealing Court Decisions: The Chances of Success

The chances of success for an appeal vary depending on the type of appeal and the grounds being argued.

For example, appealing on jury selection is very difficult, as is appealing a sentence within the range set out by law.

On the other hand, appealing on the grounds of new evidence or improper exclusion of evidence is more likely to be successful.

Ultimately, it’s up to the court to decide whether or not to allow an appeal, and they will weigh a number of factors in making their decision.

These include things like:

  • The strength of the original decision
  • The impact of the error on the result of the trial
  • The importance of the issue being appealed
  • Whether or not allowing the appeal would cause significant delays in the legal system

Appealing Court Decisions: FAQs

Next, we’ll answer some common questions about appealing court decisions.

How long do I have to appeal a decision?

The time limit for appealing a decision depends on the type of case and the province or territory it was tried in. For example, the time limit for provincial criminal cases in Ontario is usually 30 days.

Can I appeal more than once?

In most cases, you can only appeal once. However, there are some circumstances where you may be able to file for a second appeal, called an “appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.” This is generally only available in cases where there is a question of national importance or if the first appeal raised an important constitutional issue.

Can I represent myself on appeal?

You have the right to represent yourself during all stages of the Canadian criminal justice process, including on appeal. However, it’s vital to keep in mind that appealing a decision is a complex legal process, and it is always in your best interest to hire a trusted and experienced criminal lawyer in Ontario.


The outcome of your appeal will depend on a number of factors. These include the type of appeal you’re making and the strength of your argument.

If you’re appealing a criminal conviction, working with an expert criminal defence lawyer is imperative to offer you the best chance of success. Contact the team at KIVLaw today to speak to a criminal lawyer now.