Going to Criminal Court
For many people, attending Provincial Court is their first contact with the justice system. It can be stressful and intimidating, but knowing what to expect can help.
This section provides general information about the criminal court process. This is not a full or complete review of the criminal process, nor should this be considered legal advice. This guide will only apply to criminal proceedings at the Ontario Court of Justice as other courts may have different protocols and procedures.
The Ministry of the Attorney General has general information on attending criminal court, which can be located here:
Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO) also provides a useful step-by-step guide that can help you navigate your criminal case, which can be located here:
A criminal case: step-by-step
Finding legal help and representation
Navigating the criminal court system can be confusing. That is why it is important to seek legal representation to help you obtain the best possible result in your case.
If you are charged with a criminal offence, the first thing you should consider is whether you want a lawyer to represent you. Although you have a right to represent yourself in court, you are strongly urged to get advice from a lawyer or paralegal about your legal options, the possible criminal consequences you could face and the criminal court process.
Judges, court staff and Crown Attorneys cannot give you legal advice. The Ontario Court of Justice also cannot give you legal advice.
The legal information provided here does not replace the advice or assistance you get when you have a lawyer or paralegal representing you in court. If you represent yourself, you are responsible for informing yourself about the law and the court’s procedures. Below are resources that can help you find a lawyer.
Legal Aid Ontario’s Criminal legal issues page describes the services available through Legal Aid Ontario (LAO).
You may be eligible for a legal aid certificate that will pay for your own lawyer. Your eligibility may depend on your financial situation, the type of offence with which you are charged and the type of sentence the Crown may seek if you are found guilty.
You can apply for a legal aid certificate online, by phone (1-800-668-8258 or 416-979-1446), or in person. Make sure you have your disclosure when you make an application. Your disclosure is the package of documents you receive from the Crown’s office that includes the synopsis (a police report that summarizes the allegations) and the Charge screening form, which includes the Crown’s position on sentence if you are found guilty of the offence.
Duty counsel are legal aid lawyers assigned to each courthouse. They may be able to assist you if you are not eligible for a legal aid certificate. Duty counsel may assist you during a court appearance. They can provide you with legal advice and information about your court date and the court process, but they may not act as your private counsel. Duty counsel will also assist you with your bail hearing at no cost to you.
You should contact the duty counsel office at your local courthouse before your first appearance in court. You can find contact information for your local duty counsel office by using the Courthouse location and information search tool.
If you are not eligible for a certificate from LAO, you may be eligible for representation by a law student at a Student Legal Service Organization (SLSO). Check to see if there is one in your community. Law students often represent people facing low level criminal charges. They may be able to represent you at no cost to you but are limited to providing representation only in certain cases.
If you have multiple legal issues, such as housing, employment, immigration or workers’ rights, you may want to contact a local community legal aid clinic for assistance. CLEO has prepared a list of these clinics.
If you have a family law issue as well as a criminal law issue, you can contact the LAO Family Law Service Centres. Please also refer to the Family section of our site for more information on going to family court at the Ontario Court of Justice.
If you are Indigenous, you can also contact the Aboriginal Legal Services (ALS) Legal Clinic which offers many resources and supports for anyone who self-identifies as Indigenous.
The Law Society Referral Service will give you the name of a lawyer or paralegal in your community. They will provide a free consultation of up to 30 minutes to help you determine your rights and options. They can be accessed on-line or reached at 1-855-947-5255 or 416-947-5255.
The Lawyer and Paralegal Directory, also provided by the Law Society of Ontario, allows you to search online for lawyers and paralegals by name, city or postal code..
You should note that paralegals may only provide representation and advice in relation to certain types of criminal charges. Details about these limitations can be found on the Law Society of Ontario website: Permitted Criminal Code Summary Conviction Offences for Regulated Agents. The Law Society of Ontario provides additional information about paralegals in About Paralegals.
Information for young persons under 18 years old
The Youth Criminal Justice Act provides young persons (12-17 years old) with special rights and protections.
If you are a young person under 17, you or your parent or guardian should apply to Legal Aid Ontario for a legal aid certificate that you can use to hire a lawyer.
If you want to hire a lawyer to represent you, but have been denied a legal aid certificate, you can appeal the decision or ask to have their matter brought before a judge to explain why you cannot afford to hire a lawyer.
The judge may order a referral to Legal Aid for the appointment of counsel.
You, or your guardian or parent 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 you with a lawyer in their community.
You can call JFCY at 416-920-1633 or toll free at 1-866-999-5329.
More information regarding young persons and the criminal justice system can be found on the JFCY website.