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Information for Self-Represented Accused Persons with Criminal Cases in the Ontario Court of Justice

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Published: August 19, 2020 ; Updated April 20, 2021

The Ontario Court of Justice (OCJ) has significantly revised its procedures and schedules in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, the OCJ adopted a reduced operational schedule.  Since then, the Court has worked with all of its justice partners to restore and resume court operations.  Many court proceedings that have traditionally taken place in person are now taking place using remote technology, such as videoconference or audioconference.

The Ministry of the Attorney General, which is responsible for courts administration and courthouse facilities, established an incremental plan to prepare courthouses and courtrooms to facilitate the resumption of in-person proceedings in courthouses across Ontario.  The first phase of the plan was implemented July 6, 2020 in a limited number of courthouses and courtrooms. Additional courthouses resumed hearing trials and preliminary inquiries throughout the summer and fall.  All court locations, other than some satellite courts, have resumed hearing criminal trials and preliminary inquiries.

As part of the return to operations plan, the Ministry has implemented health and safety measures in each courthouse. The number of people who may enter courthouses has been limited in order to help curb the spread of COVID-19. More information about the precautionary health and safety measures at courthouses implemented by the Ministry is available on the following website:  COVID-19: Reopening courtrooms.  In addition, due to the ongoing pandemic, the OCJ is encouraging judiciary, counsel and parties to use remote technology (videoconference or telephone) for court proceedings wherever possible.

This document provides general information to self-represented accused persons who have criminal cases in the OCJ during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not a complete review of the criminal process and does not cover every circumstance that might arise in your case.

The following are general answers to some common questions that you may have. For more specific information that may impact your case, seek legal advice. You should also review the COVID-19 notices posted on the OCJ website which are updated often.

General Information for Self-Represented Accused Persons

1.            I don’t have access to the internet. Are there other ways to obtain information about how my court case will be dealt with during the pandemic without coming to the courthouse?

If you do not have access to the internet and are unable to get help to access the information on the OCJ website, you can call the local courthouse and speak with a court services representative.

Your release document will tell you the courthouse where your case is being dealt with.

You may also contact Legal Aid Ontario at 1-800-668-8258 or at 416-979-1446 or on the web at https://www.legalaid.on.ca/  for assistance.

Court appearances

2.            How can I find out my next court date?

If you are unsure about the date of your next court appearance, please contact your lawyer. If you do not have a lawyer, please contact the courthouse and ask for assistance.

To see a list of cases that are scheduled for the current day or the next day at a particular courthouse, go to the Daily Court Lists website:  http://www.ontariocourtdates.ca/.

3.            Should I come to the courthouse for my trial or preliminary hearing?

Starting on July 6, 2020, the OCJ resumed hearing criminal trials and preliminary inquiries in a limited number of courthouses in Ontario. Additional courthouses resumed hearing trials and preliminary hearings throughout the summer and fall of 2020.  All court locations, other than some satellite courts, have resumed hearing criminal trials and preliminary inquiries.

A list of courts which have resumed hearing trials and preliminary hearings may be found here. This information can change so you should check back for up to date information.

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Court is encouraging judiciary, counsel and parties to conduct trials and preliminary inquiries, which would otherwise be conducted in person, using remote technology (video or audio) wherever possible. Proceeding by remote technology requires seeking judicial approval and making arrangements well in advance of the trial or preliminary hearing.

If you are an accused person and are unsure whether you should attend for a trial or preliminary inquiry by video or telephone or in person, please contact your lawyer or, if you do not have a lawyer, contact the courthouse where your case is being heard.

4.            I had a scheduled case management court appearance between March 16 and November 27, 2020.  What happened to my case?  

A case management court appearance includes a “first appearance”, matters scheduled “to be spoken to”, or to “set a date.” It does not include scheduled trials or preliminary hearings.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, criminal case management appearances for out-of-custody accused persons between March 16, 2020 and November 27, 2020 were adjourned, in the accused person’s absence, to another date.  When your case was adjourned, the court issued an order known as a “bench warrant with discretion” which required you to attend court on your next date.  The dates these matters were adjourned to are posted on the OCJ website.

As of Monday November 30, 2020, accused persons are required to attend for their scheduled appearance in criminal case management court.  If you do not attend a scheduled criminal case management appearance on or after Monday November 30, 2020, the Court may (i) issue a bench summons requiring you to attend court on a specified date or, (ii) issue a warrant for your arrest, if the presiding judicial officer has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that it is necessary in the public interest to do so.  See question 5 below for details about how to attend court.

If you are not sure when your next court date is, see question 2.

5.            How should I attend at case management court to speak to my case?

The Ontario Court of Justice has implemented virtual criminal case management courts, which allow accused persons who are not in custody to appear for their case management date by videoconference or by audioconference (telephone).

For details about how you can attend a criminal case management appearance by videoconference or telephone, see this Notice:  Scheduling and Conducting of Virtual Criminal Case Management Appearances.

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Court stresses the importance of limiting in-person attendance at courthouses. The Court is committed to facilitating the conduct of proceedings by remote technology (video or phone) wherever possible and urges all judicial officials, parties and counsel to use remote proceedings unless an in-person appearance is required to ensure meaningful access to justice.

If you have a case management criminal court appearance, you should attend by videoconference or telephone wherever possible.

If you do not have access to a personal telephone or a computer, you can use a payphone to call Zoom’s toll-free 1-855 number (listed on the Scheduling and Connection Information notice for your court location) to join the court proceeding for free.  In addition, many courthouses and local service agencies have resources and/or procedures to help people who don’t have their own telephone or computer attend court by video or phone.  If you are unable to attend a criminal case management appearance by video or telephone, please contact the courthouse to find out what alternatives to an in-person appearance may be available in your area.

For information about appearing by video or telephone see:

6.            Can I attend at case management court in person to speak to my case?

If you have a case management criminal court appearance, you should attend by videoconference or telephone wherever possible.  Because the number of people who may be present in the courthouse and courtroom remains limited, in-person appearances should be limited to accused persons who are unable to attend court by video or telephone due to exceptional circumstances.

For details about how you can attend a criminal case management appearance by videoconference or telephone, see this Notice:  Scheduling and Conducting of Virtual Criminal Case Management Appearances.

If you do not have access to a personal telephone or a computer, you can use a payphone to call Zoom’s toll-free 1-855 number (listed on the Scheduling and Connection Information notice for your court location) to join the court proceeding for free.  In addition, many courthouses and local service agencies have resources and/or procedures to help people who don’t have their own telephone or computer attend court by video or phone.  If you are unable to attend a criminal case management appearance by video or telephone, please contact the courthouse to find out what alternatives to an in-person appearance may be available in your area.

7.            How can I get information about hiring a lawyer or paralegal to assist me?

The information in this notice is not legal advice and does not replace the advice of a legal professional. The Guide for Accused Persons in Criminal Trials on the OCJ website explains how you can retain a lawyer or paralegal.

If you do not have access to the internet, you can obtain information by calling the following services. Both offer limited legal advice for free:

If you qualify for legal aid, LAO will issue you a legal aid certificate that you can use to hire a lawyer.

8.            I need an interpreter. How can I get one?

If you need an interpreter, you can contact a court services representative in the courthouse where your case is being heard. More information can be found online at https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/courts/interpreters/.

9.            I have a disability and will have trouble attending the courthouse. What should I do?

If you have questions about a courthouse’s accessibility features, you can contact the Accessibility Coordinator at the courthouse where your matter is being heard. Additional information can be found online at https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/about/commitment_to_accessibility.php.

10.         I am a young person and do not have a lawyer to assist me. Where can I get help?

The Youth Criminal Justice Act provides young persons (12-17 years old) with special rights and protections. Young persons or their parents or guardians should apply to Legal Aid Ontario for a legal aid certificate that they can use to hire a lawyer. If a young person wants to hire a lawyer to represent them, but has been denied a legal aid certificate, they can appeal the decision or ask to have their matter brought before a judge to explain why they cannot afford to hire a lawyer. The judge may order a referral to Legal Aid for the appointment of counsel.

Young persons or their parents or guardians may wish to contact Justice For Children and Youth (JFCY), which is a legal clinic that gives free legal advice to any young person in Ontario. JFCY also can help to connect a young person facing criminal charges with a lawyer in their community. You can call JFCY at 416-920-1633 or toll free at 1-866-999-5329.

Moving My Case Forward

11.         How should I prepare for my court date?

If you next court date is in a case management court, it is important that you take the following steps:

12.         What is disclosure and how can I get disclosure?

A person accused of committing a crime is entitled by law to receive a copy of the evidence that the Crown possesses or controls that is not clearly irrelevant or privileged. This could include: police notes, witness statements, diagrams, and photographs. This information is called “disclosure”.  The prosecutor (also known as a Crown Attorney or an Assistant Crown Attorney) can usually provide you with your disclosure before your first court appearance after your release.

You should contact the Crown Attorney’s office that is prosecuting your case before your court appearance to ask them how to get your disclosure. If you lost your original disclosure and need a new copy or if you think that you should be getting additional disclosure, contact the Crown Attorney’s office.  Do not attend at the courthouse to pick up your disclosure unless you have contacted the Crown Attorney’s office and made arrangements to do so.

When you contact the Crown Attorney’s office, be prepared to provide:

  • your full name
  • your date of birth
  • a list of your charges
  • the police occurrence number (found on your release papers)
  • your email address, telephone number; and mailing address

Please also advise whether you have a secure email address where you can receive disclosure.

This information is required so the Crown can provide you with disclosure on an ongoing basis.

In some cases, you may also be asked to provide identification or other information confirming your identity, because the Crown must ensure that disclosure is released to the correct person.

For more information about how criminal cases in the OCJ are conducted, please refer to The Guide for Accused Persons in Criminal Trials on the OCJ website.

13.         I would like to speak with the prosecutor about my case. How can I do this without attending the courthouse?

You may be able to schedule a telephone meeting with a Crown Attorney (or prosecutor) to discuss your case. This is often referred to as a “Crown pre-trial”. Please contact the Crown Attorney’s office that is prosecuting your case to determine if you are able to have a Crown pre-trial without a legal representative.

14.         I have already spoken with the prosecutor and would like to speak with a judge about my case. Can I do this?

A judicial pre-trial (JPT) is a meeting involving a judge, Crown Attorney and the accused person (or, if the accused person is represented by a lawyer, their lawyer).  A JPT is not a trial and no witnesses will testify at a JPT. A JPT may be done in person, through a telephone conference call or through a videoconference.

A JPT may be required before you can schedule a trial in your case.

If you have spoken with the prosecutor about your case, they may be able to assist with scheduling a JPT.  Otherwise, to find out how to schedule a JPT, please contact your local courthouse.

15.         How can I plead guilty to the charges against me?

Before you decide to plead guilty, you are strongly encouraged to obtain legal advice.

Many court locations are conducting guilty plea proceedings by video and most court locations require you to arrange a date in advance for your pleas.  A legal professional may be able to assist you in arranging a date for a guilty plea.

If you do not have access to a legal professional, you can contact the Crown Attorney’s office to set a date for pleading guilty by providing the following information:

  • your full name
  • your date of birth
  • a list of your charges
  • the police occurrence number (found on your release papers)
  • your next court date
  • the date you would like to plead guilty

If you are unable to speak with the Crown or a legal professional, you should indicate at your next court appearance that you wish to make arrangements to plead guilty.

16.         I would like to set a trial date as soon as possible. Can I set a trial date?

A judicial pre-trial (JPT) is generally required before a self-represented accused person can schedule a trial date.  The procedure for setting the trial date will be discussed at the judicial pre-trial.  For more information about JPTs, see question 14.

If a judicial pre-trial has been held in your case but you didn’t discuss how to set a trial date, you can ask about the procedure for setting the trial date at your next court appearance.  Or you can contact the your local courthouse to find out how to set a trial date.  You should also consult the notice about setting trial dates posted by the court on its website.

17.         Am I able to enter a courthouse to file court documents?

If you have materials that you would like to serve and file with the court, this can be done electronically by email.  Information on how to submit documents by email may be found on the OCJ website. If you are unable to file documents by email, contact your local courthouse by telephone to find out about the options that are available to you.

18.         How can I apply to change the conditions of my release (e.g., of a bail/ release order or a police undertaking)?

If you are concerned about your bail/release conditions or the conditions in an undertaking to the police, you can fill out an Application for Consent Variation Bail Form and send it to the Crown Attorney’s office by email. Before you try to change the terms of your release, you are encouraged to obtain legal advice or contact Legal Aid for assistance.

If the Crown Attorney’s office agrees to the proposed change(s), the OCJ has implemented a procedure so that you will not need to attend the courthouse in person. Information about this procedure can be found on the OCJ website: COVID-19: Ontario Court of Justice Consent Variation Procedures for Release Orders and Police Undertakings.

If you have been released on a bail order with any sureties, your sureties must also consent to the proposed change(s) and they must complete Part B of the Application for Consent Variation Bail Form. Part C of the Form is completed by a lawyer if you have one.

You will receive a decision by email. A bail variation form must include the Crown Attorney’s consent and the authorization of a judicial official, in writing, to take effect. If your request to vary your release order is granted, a copy will be sent to you by email.  Keep it with the original release order.

If the Crown Attorney does not consent to your proposed variation(s), you may bring a court application asking a judge to change your conditions.  The type of application depends on whether you were released on a police undertaking or a court-issued bail/release order.  If you are seeking to vary a condition on a police undertaking, you can bring an application in the Ontario Court of Justice under s. 502(2) of the Criminal Code.  If you are seeking to vary a condition on a court-ordered release, you can bring a “bail review” application in Superior Court of Justice under s. 520 of the Criminal Code.

You are encouraged to seek legal advice and contact your courthouse to determine when the application can be scheduled.

19.         I don’t have a scheduled court appearance, but I would like to act as a surety and may have to testify at a bail hearing for a person who is in custody. Am I expected to come to the courthouse to testify?

Most bail hearings are being conducted by videoconference and/or telephone during the pandemic. A person who is prepared to act as a surety should contact the lawyer representing the accused person, or the duty counsel who is assisting the accused person. The lawyer or duty counsel will provide you with information about joining the hearing by telephone or videoconference. You should ask the accused person for the name and contact information of their lawyer, if they have a lawyer.

20.         I am not in custody but I urgently require the court to consider my case. What can I do to bring my case to the court’s attention?

You can raise any issues or problems in connection with your case at your next court appearance.

If you have an urgent matter than cannot wait until your next court appearance, please speak with your lawyer.  If you do not have a lawyer, please contact Legal Aid Ontario at 1-800-668-8258 for assistance in submitting a request to have your matter brought before the Court. Requests to bring a matter forward may need to be approved by a judicial official.  If you do not have access to a legal professional, you can contact the Crown Attorney’s office to set a date to speak to the court by providing the following information:

  • your full name
  • your date of birth
  • a list of your charges
  • the police occurrence number (found on your release papers)
  • your next court date
  • the date you would like to speak to the court
  • the reason your case requires urgent attention

21.         I have read that some court proceedings will be offered by telephone and/or video. Can my case be heard this way even if I don’t own a telephone or a computer?

The court is committed to ensuring access to justice and fairness for all litigants. If you do not have a phone or a computer, your case will be heard in a courtroom when it is safe to do so.

If you want to have your trial go ahead during the pandemic and want to appear using a phone or a computer or other device rather than by coming to the courthouse, you can ask at a Crown pre-trial or at a judicial pre-trial about how this can be done. Please contact the Crown Attorney’s office that is prosecuting your case to determine if you are able to have a Crown pre-trial without a legal representative. You are encouraged to get legal advice before you agree to attend your trial using a phone, computer or other device rather than by appearing in person at the courthouse.

If you have a criminal case management appearance but do not have access to a personal telephone or a computer, you can use a payphone to call Zoom’s toll-free 1-855 number (listed on the Scheduling and Connection Information notice for your court location) to join the court proceeding for free.  In addition, some courthouses and local service agencies have resources and/or procedures to help people who don’t have their own telephone or computer attend court by video or phone.  If you are unable to attend a criminal case management appearance by video or telephone, please contact the courthouse to find out what alternatives to an in-person appearance may be available in your area.

Health and Safety

22.          What steps are being taken to protect my health and safety if I need to attend a courthouse?

The Ministry of the Attorney General has implemented health and safety measures at each courthouse. Information about the strict health and safety measures that are in place may be found online at https://www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-reopening-courtrooms. You are encouraged to review the information prepared by the Ministry which explains all of the measures that are in place to protect your health and safety. These measures include:

  • enhanced cleaning
  • hand sanitizer stations
  • plexiglass barriers
  • markers that will promote physical distancing by having people to stay two metres apart from each other.

The heath and safety measures include screening of all persons entering the courthouse.  You can complete the online screening before going to court:  https://covid-19.ontario.ca/courthouse-screening. You must show the result as you enter.  If you cannot complete the screening online, other screening options are available at the courthouse.

Face coverings are mandatory for everyone who is in a courthouse. Before entering the courthouse , you will be given a face covering that you must were while you are in the courthouse. Persons with a valid medical reason for not wearing a face covering will not be required to wear one.

23.          What do I do if I don’t feel well or if I am sick on a date of a scheduled court appearance?

If you are experiencing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or have been advised by a public health official, a physician or by the Ontario Ministry of Health website to self-isolate, it is important that you do not attend at the courthouse even if you have a scheduled court appearance. Please contact the courthouse to let the court staff know if you have been advised by a public health official, a physician or by the Ontario Ministry of Health website to self-isolate.

Before attending any courthouse in person, you must complete the online screening questionnaire. It is located at https://covid-19.ontario.ca/courthouse-screening/. Your result will tell you if you can or cannot enter, and what to do next.

24.          I am not sick but feel very nervous about attending a public courthouse during the pandemic. What do I do?

You are expected to attend any scheduled court hearings. It may be possible for you attend court by video or telephone, rather than in person.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Ontario Court of Justice stresses the importance of limiting in-person attendance at courthouses. The Court is committed to facilitating the conduct of proceedings by remote technology (video or telephone) wherever possible unless an in-person appearance is required to ensure meaningful access to justice.

If you are unsure whether your case is being held by video or telephone or in person, please contact your lawyer or, if you do not have a lawyer, contact the courthouse where your case is being heard using the contact information on this website.

As noted above, the Ministry of the Attorney General has implemented rigorous health and safety measures to protect everyone in a courthouse.

25.          Will I be able to bring witnesses, family and friends to the courthouse?

There are limits on the number of people who may be admitted to the courthouse to ensure that people can practice physical distancing and remain 2 meters or 6 feet apart.

If a person is required to attend as a witness in a case, they will be subject to the same screening requirements described above in question 22 before being admitted.

Everyone who attends at the courthouse will be required to wear face coverings while inside the courthouse.

Please allow extra time to arrive in advance of a hearing. You should expect delays in entering the courthouse in order to conduct the necessary COVID-19 screening measures.

26.          Will I be able to bring documents and other materials that I want to file?

If you bring documents with you, remember that you may be asked to show court staff your belongings, deposit them in a bin for screening or place them on an examination table.  You should wash or sanitize your hands before and after sharing any documents. Hand sanitizer will be available at the courthouse.

You may bring documents with you, but you can also file documents for your case by email at the Ontario Court of Justice. If you have trouble submitting documents by email, please ask court staff at the courthouse who can assist you with this process.

Note: The above information is meant to assist self-represented litigants with common questions during the courts’ re-opening and does not replace legal advice. Please contact a lawyer or paralegal or the courthouse to obtain case specific information about the circumstances of your case. If you are a self-represented litigant with a family law or provincial offences matter, please visit the OCJ website for specific resources that might apply to your case as this information is meant to assist self-represented litigants with criminal cases before the Ontario Court of Justice.