What is a First Appearance for a Criminal Offence?

April 24, 2019
It is good to be prepared for your first appearance in criminal court.
It is wise for the accused to understand what to expect at their first court appearance.

What happens at the first appearance at court for a person accused of a criminal offence?

  • After being charged with a criminal offence, the accused may be released or held in custody for a bail hearing:
  • Upon their release they will be given a document that states the conditions of their release as well as their first court date, time and location.
  • The accused release will be one of the following:
  • An undertaking with conditions: This is the accused's written promise to appear in court on a future date. It has conditions. This agreement is typically negotiated at the police station.
  • A recognizance without sureties: This is a document the accused must sign that stipulates the conditions of the accused release and states that the accused will pay the court an amount of money if he or she does not appear for their court dates, or if he breaks any other conditions of their release.
  • A recognizance with sureties: This is a document the surety and the accused must sign typically after a bail hearing. This document stipulates the conditions of the accused release and states that that the surety will pay the court a fixed amount of money if the accused does not appear at their court date, or if he or she breaks any conditions of his release.
  • A promise to appear: This is the accused's written promise to appear in court on a future date. It has no conditions.
  • Every accused who is released from custody will have a condition that they must attend court when required.
  • If the accused is released from the police station they will be given a document by the police.This document is typically an appearance notice, a summons, or a promise to appear.
  • If the accused has been released on bail, the date, time and location of their first appearance will be on a document given to you by the court. This document is  typically a recognizance or an undertaking.


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What should the accused bring to their first appearance court date?


  •  The accused should bring the documents that you received from the police when you were released, or the papers they got from the court when they were released on bail.
  • If the accused has hired a criminal defence lawyer, their lawyer may attend court in place of the accused once the accused has signed a designation.
  • If the accused has not retained a criminal defence lawyer they may wish to speak to duty counsel to get legal advice. 
  • At a first appearance the Crown will give often have a disclosure package (evidence and information against the accused) that will be given to the criminal defence lawyer or the accused.
  • Typically the criminal defence lawyer acting for the accused will ask the court for three to four week  adjournment to review the disclosure and have a Crown pre-trial, (a resolution discussion between the Crown and the Defence lawyer).
  • It is very unusual for criminal charges to be resolved on the first appearance.
  • Nothing is argued on the first appearance. The accused first appearance date will not be for a trial. Making arguments about your case, presenting evidence, and calling witnesses happens at later court proceedings after pre-trial resolution attempts have been unsuccessful.
  • The matter will be most likely adjourned. The court will then give the accused a new court date and time for their next appearance.

Who is the Crown?


  • In court “the Crown” refers to the assistant crown attorney or a the federal prosecutor.
  • An assistant crown attorney is a government lawyer who prosecutes criminal cases on behalf of the provincial Ministry of Attorney General.
  • A federal prosecutor is also a government lawyer who does the same thing for the federal Department of Justice.

What should I do when my name is called in court?


  • The accused name will be called in court. When this happens the accused is to go up to the front of the courtroom and stand place facing the judge, likely between the Crown and the accused criminal defence lawyer or duty counsel.
  • The accused should refer to the judge as “Your Honour", or if a justice of the peace is sitting at the front of the court, you should refer to him or her as “Your Worship.” The judges wear a red sash while justices of the peace wear a green sash.
  • The accused cannot wear  sunglasses or a hat in court unless for  religious or medical reasons.
  • The accused should turn off all electronic devices before entering court.
  • Gum-chewing, eating, or drinking are not permitted.
  • For advice before or after your first appearance for criminal defence charges, call Toronto Criminal Lawyer Jonathan Pyzer.


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