What to Expect on Your First Day in Criminal Court in Ontario

Canadian Disclosure and Charge Screening

If you’ve been charged with a crime, your first day in criminal court can be a daunting experience. You may not know what to expect, what to say, or how to act. This blog post will provide you with some information on what to expect on your first day in criminal court so you can be better prepared and empowered.

What is a First Appearance?

First, it’s useful to note your first day in criminal court is also known as a “first appearance.” It is not the same as your first day at a criminal trial. Instead, first appearances are typically short hearings where the charges against you are read aloud, and you are asked to enter a guilty or not guilty plea. Unless you plead guilty, the first appearance will usually end with setting a date for your first trial.

Learn more about how the Canadian criminal trial process works in this article.

What to Expect at a First Appearance in Ontario

If you are appearing in criminal court for the first time, you will likely be quite nervous. This is perfectly normal. Just remember to take deep breaths and relax as much as you can. The first thing you will do is meet with your criminal defence lawyer. Your lawyer will be able to provide you with some guidance and words of wisdom before you head into the courtroom.

Once you are in the courtroom, the first thing that will happen is that the court clerk will call your case. The Crown Prosecutor (the government’s representative) will then stand up and state their name for the record. Your defence lawyer will do the same if you have one. Then, you will also be asked to stand up and state your name for the record.

Making a plea

After this, the judge will ask how you plead to the charges against you. You will have three options: guilty, not guilty, or no contest. A guilty plea means you are admitting to the charges against you and will likely be sentenced on the same day. With a not guilty plea, this means you are denying the charges against you and will need to set a date for your trial. If you plead no contest, this means you’re not admitting to or denying the charges against you, but are willing to accept whatever sentence the judge decides to give you.

However, keep in mind you have the right to review the Crown’s disclosure (evidence) before you decide how to plead. This is why it is so helpful to have a lawyer represent you at your first appearance-they can help you make the best decision for your case.

Once you have entered your plea, the judge will decide whether or not to release you from custody. If they decide to do so, they will set a date for your next appearance. They will set a date for your bail hearing if they decide to keep you in custody.


Adjournments are common and can happen for a variety of reasons. For example, the Crown might need more time to prepare their case, or the defence might need more time to review the disclosure. If an adjournment is granted, the judge will set a new date for your next appearance.

Disclosure, Crown Screening Forms, and Retaining Counsel

We’ve discussed the general course of events that can take place on your first day in criminal court, but let’s explore some other essential considerations in more detail.

The Crown’s disclosure

The Crown typically provides a disclosure package to the defence lawyer at the first appearance. A disclosure package contains all of the information and evidence the Crown intends to use against the accused at trial.

The defence lawyer will review the disclosure package to determine what defences may be available to the accused. The defence lawyer may also discuss with the accused whether or not they should plead guilty. It’s important to note the accused must make this decision, not their lawyer.

Crown screening forms

The Crown provides the defence with a screening form indicating whether they are willing to proceed by way of summary conviction or indictable offence. The screening form is important because it determines which court will hear your case and what type of sentence you may be facing if convicted.

Retaining counsel

The Crown inquires whether the accused has retained counsel, if they plan to do so, or if they plan to represent themselves. If the accused has not yet retained a lawyer, they can request a list of Legal Aid lawyers if they wish. The accused may also be given an opportunity to speak to duty counsel, who is a lawyer provided by the court to give brief legal advice.

As mentioned, first appearances are typically brief. They are often adjourned so the accused can have more time to consult with their lawyer and review the disclosure package.

Preparing for Your First Appearance

If you are scheduled to appear in Ontario criminal court, there are a few things you can do to prepare.

First, it’s vital that you review the charges against you and familiarize yourself with the facts of your case. You should also ensure you have all of the necessary documents and information with you when you go to court, including a copy of the disclosure package if one was provided.

Second, you should dress appropriately for court. This means avoiding casual clothing like jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. You should also avoid wearing anything that could be considered offensive, like clothing with profanity or graphic images.

Finally, you should make sure to arrive at court at least 15 minutes early and be prepared to follow all of the rules and procedures of the court. This includes being respectful to the judge and other court personnel, not using your cell phone in court, and following any other specific instructions you are given.

First Appearance: FAQs

Next, here are answers to some frequently asked questions about first appearances in criminal court.

Do I need a lawyer for my first appearance?

While you are not required to have a lawyer for your first appearance, it is highly recommended that you do.

What happens if I don’t show up for my first appearance?

If you fail to appear for your first appearance, a warrant may be issued for your arrest. This means the police may come to your home or place of work to arrest you. If you are arrested, you are often held in custody until your first appearance.

In Closing

First appearances in criminal court can be quite complex, and a lot of information is often presented to the accused all at once. It is highly recommended that accused persons retain counsel to assist them in understanding the charges against them and the potential consequences and help them make decisions about their case.

If you are seeking an expert criminal lawyer in Ontario to guide you through your first appearance and beyond, contact KIVLaw today.