Criminal Court: Step-by-Step

This is a step-by-step guide on a typical criminal case at the Ontario Court of Justice. This will help you understand each step in your criminal court proceedings.

  • Arrest/charge

    Your criminal case begins when the police give you a summons notifying you that you have been charged with a criminal offence and must attend court on a particular date, or when you are arrested and either released by police (on an appearance notice or an undertaking) or held in jail until you are brought into court for a bail hearing. This must be within 24 hours of your arrest.

  • Bail hearing / judicial interim release hearing

    At your bail hearing, a judge or a justice of the peace will decide if you should be released or held in jail. The Crown may either consent to a release order and suggest certain conditions to the court or seek to prove why you should be held in jail. A lawyer will represent you for this hearing – either duty counsel or your own lawyer.

    If you are released, you must follow the conditions imposed by the presiding justice and attend court on the date stated on the release order. If you are detained, you will stay in jail until your trial or until your matter is resolved. You have the right to seek a bail review and appeal your detention order. The Crown may also apply to review your release order.

  • Case management court (CMC)

    Regardless of whether you are detained in jail after a bail hearing, released after a bail hearing or given a notice to appear in court by the police, your next appearance will be in case management court, often before a justice of the peace. The date, time and courtroom where you must attend will be set out on the notice or order you receive. Issues that are addressed in case management court include disclosure, whether you have applied for legal aid, retained a lawyer or will represent yourself, and whether a Crown pre-trial or a judicial pre-trial have been scheduled. In most cases, your matter will stay in case management court until it is set for preliminary inquiry or trial, or until you and the Crown agree on a resolution, such as a guilty plea or diversion.

  • Judge-led intensive case management court (JICMC)

    Your case may be referred to a judge-led intensive case management court (JICMC) if it has been in case management court for a long time with no trial date scheduled, and it requires extra case management.

  • Crown pre-trial (CPT)

    At this meeting, the Crown and your lawyer will discuss your case, including the Crown’s position on resolution and sentence, and whether your case will be proceeding to trial. The Crown pre-trial may be held in person, over the telephone or by email. If you do not have a lawyer, you may be assisted by duty counsel or you may also be able to speak directly to the Crown. If you are not able to meet with a Crown without a lawyer being present, your case will usually proceed directly to a judicial pre-trial.


  • Judicial pre-trial (JPT)

    The judicial pre-trial is a meeting between you or your lawyer, the Crown, and a judge. The purpose of the judicial pre-trial is to sort out issues before the trial or, if possible, resolve the case without a trial, which might involve a withdrawal of the charge(s), diversion, or a guilty plea. Unless the case can be resolved, at the conclusion of the judicial pre-trial, a date will usually be set for a guilty plea, preliminary inquiry or trial.

  • Resolution

    Possible resolutions include a withdrawal of the charge(s), diversion, or a guilty plea. If you choose to plead guilty, you give up your right to have a trial. Before accepting your plea, a judge may conduct a “plea inquiry” - a series of questions to ensure that you understand the consequences of your plea. After you plead guilty, your matter will proceed to sentencing. During sentencing, both the Crown and you may make arguments as to why a specific sentence is appropriate. The judge will then impose a sentence

  • Preliminary inquiry

    If you are charged with an offence punishable by a maximum jail sentence of 14 years or more, you may have the choice to have a preliminary inquiry before your trial in the Superior Court of Justice. This hearing is generally shorter than a trial. At the end of the preliminary inquiry, the presiding judge does not decide whether you are guilty or not guilty - they only determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial in the Superior Court of Justice.

  • Trial

    At your trial, a judge will listen to the witnesses, consider the evidence, and determine if you will be found guilty or not guilty of your charge(s). It is up to the Crown to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Although you may choose not to do so, you may also present evidence and call witnesses to testify. If the judge finds you guilty, your case will enter the sentencing phase. At the sentencing hearing, both the Crown and you may make arguments as to why a specific sentence is appropriate. The judge will then impose a sentence.

Ontario Court of Justice